Far From the Madding Crowd

Far From the Madding Crowd

(M) Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen

Far From the Madding Crowd‘s author Thomas Hardy derived the title for his literary masterpiece from a Thomas Gray poem called Elegy written in a Country Churchyard.’The irony of using Gray’s poem as source material is that it represented an idealistic noiselessness, while Hardy’s novel is a frenzied and twisted tale of the life of Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan). Bathsheba is a strong, independent and beautiful woman who goes from being a penniless orphan to a wealthy heiress. In her new role in society, Miss Everdene must traverse the male-dominated world of agriculture and business. While defining her societal role, she must determine how to respond to the advances of three different suitors: The sheep farmer, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts); the mysterious soldier, Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), and the older and wealthy landowner, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). Travelling through a seemingly charmed life,  she must come to terms with her failings and determine the right course for her life and for those in it.

Far from the Madding Crowd provides unexpected insights into the heart and mind of a young woman who has been thrust into the realm of power, wealth and love. The best way to describe Thomas Vinterberg’s (The Hunt) interpretation of Hardy’s novel is “too much story for a mere two hours.” The Danish director has crafted a beautiful film which portrays a search for an abundant life, intertwined with an unexpected love quadrangle. The biggest challenge for Vinterberg must have been trying to incorporate the depth of this rich tale into the limited timeframe of a film. At times, this leads to a loss of continuity in the story. However, that’s not to say he doesn’t manage to deliver a fulfilling product.

The lead actors, Mulligan and Schoenaerts, hve been perfectly cast and add the needed chemistry for their long-suffering relationship. A portrait of an ideal relationship has been captured in their journey and it remains strong throughout multiple trials. Mulligan and Schoenaerts are splendidly supported by Sheen who manages to steal every scene he enters. His performacne as the pitiable and forelorned Boldwood is splended. The weakest casting link is Sturridge, who doesn’t bring the presence that would be needed to win the heart of Bathsheba. In the end, these were minor weaknesses in a beautiful portrayal of life in the English countryside of the 1870s.

Whether in historical England or in a modern day setting, this story proves that the human condition has been consistent throughout the ages. This allows Vinterberg’s film to speak into the hearts of a modern audience. The failings of most of the lead characters allows for an unexpected hero to rise from the tragedies in this frenetic storyline. The heart and conscience of the story is Gabriel Oak, who provides the strength for Bathsheba to continue on through life. He offers an unconditional loyalty that comes at great personal cost, but ultimately does produce a timely reward. He delivers a quiet confidence and provides the integrity that proves to be the backbone of this tale. Within the strengths and frailties of Oak and the supporting characters, we get a rich narrative about the value of faithfulness and integrity that stands the test of time.

The true value of this cinematic experience lies in Thomas Hardy’s story, but it was beautifully satisfying in its condensed visual form.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

1. What does the Bible have to say about romance?  (Proverbs 5: 18-19, Song of Solomon)
2. Can we find true redemption in this life? (Romans 3:24-26, Ephesians 1:7)

3. Where can we find real love, hope and joy in this broken world? (Acts 24:14-16, Romans 8:24)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger

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