Before discussing the 2015 version of Far From The Madding Crowd currently playing, let me provide a little context.
I’ve never read the Thomas Hardy novel featuring Bathsheba Everdene as a passionate and fiercely independent English woman who inherits a farm and encounters three men who each want to partner with her for vastly different motives.
Seeing the John Schlesinger film (1967) on television as a young girl, I was drawn in by Bathsheba’s proto-feminism long before I could have identified the concept and was swept away by the heartbreak sparked by the dynamics of the various relationships she juggles.
There are all kinds of layers of meaning and emotional ups and downs in this tale as the main character, played indelibly by Julie Christie, negotiates independence and control, back-breaking work and frivolity, good choices and bad ones, and fortune and misfortune. The three men vying for her affections are ably played by Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, and Peter Finch.
I wish I could remember how old I was the first time I saw the film. Twelve? Thirteen? I don’t know, but even on television without the benefit of the widescreen aspect ratio, it was a marvel to me.
With no choice in the matter whatsoever, I went along the emotional rollercoaster ride for every peak and every dip and felt completely spent by the end of the nearly three-hour tale.
That has been the case each of the three or four times I’ve seen Far From The Madding Crowd, most recently just a couple of years ago. As I recollect it (and, I acknowledge, memory can play its tricks), the cold and rain of the English countryside during certain scenes makes the emotional hardships resonate even more strongly.
The most recent time I watched the film, during a winter month, I was working on a wool shawl and finished knitting it as the film ended.
It seemed appropriate at the time and still does.
I mention the weather because that is one of several elements that kept me from connecting so powerfully as I might have with Thomas Vinterberg’s version of the film playing in theaters now.
Who knew that England had so much sun?
The film is filled with glorious sunsets and sunny, temperate days that suggest spring and fall last nearly the year around. With such natural beauty in the forefront, there is little external hardship to reinforce the various trials confronting Carey Mulligan’s Bathsheba.
The 2015 version of Far From The Madding Crowd is much shorter (just under two hours), which may explain why some of Bathsheba’s transitions and emotional entanglements feel truncated, but Mulligan’s character lacks the zeal and sense of fun – on one end of the spectrum – and intense disappointment and reckoning with hardship – on the other end of the spectrum – that is found in the earlier film. This is not a commentary on her performance so much as a notation about how the character has been written.
Like the pleasant weather and glorious views in Vinterberg’s England, the intensity of the narrative has been blunted into a perfectly serviceable story about a practical woman who overlooks one potential mate (played by Matthias Schoenaerts – loved him in Rust and Bone, which is a film more than worth your time) only to become entangled with others (Tom Sturridge and Michael Sheen) who have their own baggage.
The choices Bathsheba makes and why she makes them form the crux of the story. The stakes just never seem quite as high as they might, and I think that’s because the aesthetics of this new film assure us throughout that everything will turn out just fine.
After all, how could everything be so pretty and turn out any other way? And, there are some viewers who will prefer this less intense telling of the story…