Carey Mulligan, you saucy minx.
I have seen Thomas Vinterberg’s gorgeous adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd twice now, and I have to say right up front: I love it. The cinematography, the score, the costuming, the casting choices…in my mind, they’re all aces. Never have lens flare and sheep-laden greenery looked so beautiful. As a movie playing out on screen, I think it hits almost every right note…but as a story, I do have a few minor qualms with it.
FFTMC is often described as Thomas Hardy’s “most pastoral” novel, which kind of begs the question: Why exactly was it resurrected from its dusty place on the bookshelf and turned into a Hollywood costume drama in 2015? Not to say that it didn’t deserve it, but for a while this rather puzzled me. It isn’t really one of Hardy’s more widely-remembered novels in today’s society (most people would think of Tess of the d’Urbervilles long before this one), and typically only the most well-known classics get modern film adaptations (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, etc). I think, though, that the answer is actually BECAUSE it is 2015. You guys, if 2014 was The Year of the Butt, then 2015 is most definitely The Year of the Strong-Willed Female Heroine. Which is great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not 100% sure that the character of Bathsheba deserves that many accolades for being a fabulous fictional role model. It’s true, a little chorus of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” does swell within one’s bosom when she sassily takes charge of her uncle’s sprawling farm in Weatherbury, but she also consistently belittles and patronizes her only real friend: Gabriel Oak. Never mind that it’s completely obvious they’re meant to be together; that’s not how you treat people. Feistiness and independence, while being lovely qualities, do not a heroine make. Not on their own, anyway.
I would liken Bathsheba to a slightly tamer, less self-absorbed Scarlett O’Hara (I know they’re wearing corsets, but seriously, can waists even BE that small?). She is beautiful, coquettish, and every man who sets eyes on her wants to marry her immediately. In other words, she has a slew of what Amy Shumer might refer to as #HotPeopleProblems. There is a steely strength in her determination to handle things on her own, BUT she is also vain, a bit flighty in her emotions, and can’t fathom being with the man who is clearly right for her until she has exhausted EVERY OTHER CONCEIVABLE OPTION (coughcoughRhett). You spend the vast majority of the movie just wanting to shake her until some sense falls out. Or…in. That is really my main annoyance with the story– the fact that she spends all this time touting her independence and saying she doesn’t want to be tied down in marriage to any man, but that’s obviously garbage because she gets suckered in by Sergeant Troy after knowing him for like five minutes. In reality, her hangup lies not in marriage but in obligation. She doesn’t like the idea that a perceived obligation, however slight, would deny her the ability to choose freely (again…2015, anyone?). She feels an inherent obligation to accept Gabriel Oak because he is her first (and for all she knows at that time, only) suitor, therefore the offer becomes unattractive to her. Later in the story, she feels obligated to accept Boldwood for a myriad of social and financial reasons (spoilers!), none of which involve passion or love. She feels trapped, and I can’t say I blame her. Still, though…come on, girlfriend. You can’t just string three men along for 2 hours and 400 pages and expect shiz not to hit the fan.
I’ve probably expended too many words on mostly book-related frustrations, but let me redeem myself by speaking solely about the Bathsheba of the movie here: Carey Mulligan is perfect in the role, and gives a master class in facial acting. You can think Bathsheba is a ninny for saying and doing most of the things she does (namely, ignoring the steadfast love of her truest and hunkiest friend), but CM’s ability to let the inner conflict steal across her face really gives you a chance to feel what she’s feeling. It lends a great deal of sympathy to the character, and while I wasn’t totally loving the Bathsheba of Hardy’s novel, Mulligan softened and made her much more palatable for 2015. The rest of the cast is equally excellent: Michael Sheen gives a fantastic, nuanced performance as Boldwood, Tom Sturridge is appropriately despicable as Troy (see his weird, wilted mustache for further confirmation of his weak moral fiber), and Matthias Schoenaerts is perfect as the stalwart and dreamy Gabriel Oak.
It is a quiet, subtly-played, sexy movie–there’s no doubt about it. Electricity is always crackling beneath the surface, and even though Bathsheba’s naivete often makes you want to strangle her with her own braid, I defy you not to grin when she winsomely tells her new staff that she intends to astonish them all.