Far from the Madding Crowd

Drama from the Victorian England

by Sára Dobiášová

In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and a prosperous and mature bachelor William Boldwood. The classic story, created by Thomas Hardy and published in 1874, is coming into the Czech cinemas in July 2015.

 

The words of the film’s creator Thomas Vinterberg speak clearly. According to him, the film is to be “raw and revolutionary” and at the same time avoiding to be another British period movie, “with lovely clothes and nice fireplaces.” The Danish filmmaker – Thomas Vinterberg – is one of the founders of Dogme 95: a set of rules dedicated to reintroducing the element of risk in filmmaking. While his works have never become mainstream production, his reputation for encouraging naturalistic performances makes him an excellent choice for this task. To maintain the British element in the film, Hardy’s book has been adapted to screen by David Nicholls, an English novelist and screenwriter, who penned a TV version of Hardy’s Tess of The D’Urbervilles in 2008 for the BBC as well as another Victorian classic by Charles Dickens, Great Expectationsin 2012.

The story itself offers many opportunities to look deeper into the human nature. Bathsheba Everdene, the main female protagonist, is only half-aware of her extraordinary beauty. Her life does not resemble any of the lives lived by her female contemporaries. She manages to run her own farm and seeks no man to help her with it. On the contrary, she plays with hearts of three different men who cross her path in the story, thus forming not the infamous “love triangle,” but a precarious and complicated “love square”.

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Encounter with Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts)

The danger of her capricious play is enhanced by the obvious differences between her suitors. The most prominent of them is by no means Gabriel Oak, a modest shepherd struggling to gain his independence as a farmer. He is a recurring character, appearing every time Batsheba is in danger or in need of help. This character is brought into life by a Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts. Modest, young, and sincere Gabriel Oak forms a striking contrast to Batsheba’s other suitors: Sergeant Troy, played by Tom Sturridge, is young, ruthless and vain, whereas farmer Boldwood, portrayed by Michael Sheen, is middle-aged and constraint, yet his love for Batsheba fills him with “… a fearful sense of exposure” and he plunges into maniacal obsession at the mere possibility of making his beloved Miss Everdene his wife.  

Apart from its Danish director, the film features mainly a British cast. Batsheba Everdene is played by Carey Mulligan, who received an Oscar nomination in 2009 and recently appeared as Daisy in the screen adaptation of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. She can be remembered for her role of Kitty, a younger sister of Elizabeth Bennet, in the 2005’s screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  Her leading role in the film Far from the Madding Crowd is further enhanced by her performing in a soundtrack to the first trailer. Together with her co-star Michael Sheen, they perform a traditional folk song “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme“. The song was obviously not chosen without purpose. The bunch of thyme is generally described as being a euphemism for the girl’s virginity. The true meaning with regard to the topic of the film seems to be much broader than that. The nature symbolism inherent in its lyrics seems to warn young girls of the dangers in taking false lovers. The introductory song, dating back to the 17thcentury, reflects the destiny of Bathsheba’s  relationships.

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Batsheba (Carey Mulligan) at her farm at Weatherbury

One of the central concerns of Hardy’s writing was the problem of modernity in a society that was rapidly becoming more and more industrial. The title Far from the Madding Crowd suggests avoidance of the life in a city, crowds and industry. Hardy tries to draw a portrait of what he saw as an endangered way of life. On the other hand, Bathsheba Everdene can be seen as a prototype of a modern woman. She is independent not only in spirit, but also financially. This allows Hardy to use her character to explore the dangers that such a woman must inevitably face: losing both her identity and her way of life through marriage.

Although Thomas Hardy set most of his works in the location of Wessex, Weatherbury being known as a coulisse for the drama Far from the Madding Crowd, the film itself was shot in Dorset, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and London.  The grassy valleys of Dorset have remained almost unchanged over the course of the last century, which makes them a perfect filming location. The key locations include Sherborne, West Bay, Mapperton House and Forde Abbey. These locations have remained closely connected with Hardy all his life. Once he described his birthplace as “partly real, partly dream country.” He was deeply inspired by its country folk and its contrasting landscapes.

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Meeting William Boldwood (Michael Sheen)

The music for the film was composed by Craig Armstrong. The Scottish composer has recently completed soundtracks for such films as The Great Gatsby or The Incredible Hulk and was awarded the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 2010 for his services to the music industry. It is worth mentioning that he is about to work on Paul Mc Guigan’s new film adaptation of Frankenstein, another classic of British literature, starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy.

Since Far from the Madding Crowd is one of the crucial works of Thomas Hardy, it is no surprise that there have already been several adaptations of this literary work before. The most famous of them was probably the adaptation of 1967, directed by John Schlesinger and featuring Julie Christie as Batsheba, Alan Bates as Gabriel Oak, Terence Stamp as Sergeant Troy, and Peter Finch as William Boldwood. The upcoming film tries to form a contrast to its previous adaptations. The choice of the Danish director is by no means a daring endeavour. BBC producer Christine Langan adds: “David Nicholls’ smart and compelling reworking of Hardy’s classic has found its ideal counterpart in the hugely talented Thomas Vinterberg. The incomparable Carey Mulligan – the perfect Batsheba – sits at the heart of a mouth-watering cast who will do justice to this rich and irresistible tale.

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The heroine on a date with Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge)

Film info:

  • in Czech cinemas: from 9th July 2015, directed by Thomas Vinterberg
  • screenplay: David Nicholls
  • starring: Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, Juno Temple, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, Hilton McRae  
  • IMDB profile
  • movie trailer

Picture Source: © Twentieth Century FOX

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