Home > 19th Century, British Literature, Classics, Hardy Thomas, Made into a film > So I’ve seen Far From the Madding Crowd

So I’ve seen Far From the Madding Crowd

Given my fondness for Hardy’s novels, I had to see the 2015 version of Far From the Madding Crowd. It is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, screenplay by David Nicholls, with Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak, Michael Sheen as Mr Boldwood, Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Troy and Juno Temple as Fanny Robin. Good cast, according to me.

To be honest, about 75% of the audience in the cinema was female and the men who were there seemed to be fulfilling some conjugal duty. My husband was at home, seeing Sense and Sensibility years ago left a permanent scar on him and a new nickname for Hugh Grant, Indeed, which is all he seemed to utter in Ang Lee’s film version of the book. But back to Far From the Madding Crowd.

Télérama rated it average but the journalist seemed to know nothing about Thomas Hardy’s work. Otherwise she wouldn’t have had the idea to compare Far From the Madding Crowd to Tess of the d’Urbervilles and wonder that the first was less dramatic and bleak than the latest. No kidding.

Hardy_film_farI remembered the book well, I read it last year and the film is faithful to the novel. The main events are there, except for the two important scenes of the beginning, the one when Gabriel Oak sees Bathsheba Everdene for the first time and finds her proud and the one when she saves his life. I wonder why the director cut those off as they are part of the foundation of the relationship between Bathsheba and Gabriel.

The story and characters struck me again as very Austenian, more that The Hand of Ethelberta. I developed this idea in my billet about the novel. And thanks to the film, I now know how to pronounce Bathsheba. 🙂 Watching the film and hearing the characters names out-loud gave them a new meaning. I guess Gabriel Oak has a name that suits his temper: he’s solid and has the patience of an angel. Mr Boldwood is not made of the same wood, his obsession with Bathsheba makes him bold. And Sergeant Troy is like a Trojan horse in Bathsheba’s ordered life.

The film is well done but a bit too polished to my taste. Although there are wonderful landscapes –it really, really makes you want to visit England—, I thought the director overused meaningful eye contacts between characters and morning light. It is centered on the plot which is normal for a film but it lacks the salt of Hardy’s writing: the humour, the tenderness for life in Wessex, the peasants’ accent and all the little thoughts about life and human nature that he drops everywhere along the way. I guess it’s hard to capture on film.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good version, equivalent to reading an abridged version of the book. Not as good as reading the original but close enough for you not to feel betrayed by the choice of actors or unforgivable alterations of the plot.

  1. June 9, 2015 at 12:52 am

    Good review. You’re absolutely right about the director’s “overuse of eye contacts.” I got annoyed at Oak’s reticence, and Bathsheba too, a much less headstrong and feisty lady than Hardy had described… which I take it as a sign of weak directorial skills. If you’re interested, here’s my review. You’re most welcome to ‘compare notes’. 🙂


    • June 9, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      Thanks for the link to your review, it’s excellent and you make good points.


  2. June 9, 2015 at 7:38 am

    Had to laugh at the ‘overused meaningful eye contacts’ and the landscapes… there seems to be a trend nowadays in both TV and film, especially when it comes to book adaptations. I think it’s partly also the influenc of Scandinavian TV dramas (ironically, since they actually indulge less in that than others – but because they take place over many episodes, it gives you plenty of breathing space and time to fill with rolling eyes and rolling hills.)


    • June 9, 2015 at 10:50 pm

      I’m not familiar with Scandinavian tv dramas (I don’t watch TV) so I’ll trust you on that one.
      It made me think of the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice.


  3. June 9, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    “Sergeant Troy is like a Trojan horse” – that’s good, I hadn’t thought of that, although I noticed the rural / urban split in the names.

    I know what you mean by the “morning light.” There are some movies, too worried about beautiful light, where nothing ever happens at noon.

    Were the sheep photographed nicely?


    • June 9, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      I missed the urban / country side of the names.
      The sheep were nice but stupid plump and furry creatures. First they jump from a cliff, then they get sick eating the wrong stuff. Worrisome creatures, they are.


  4. June 11, 2015 at 2:44 am

    ‘and the men who were there seemed to be fulfilling some conjugal duty.”
    I know that I’ll see it but Carey Mulligan (and I’ve liked her in other stuff) just doesn’t seem like Bathsheba to me. Have you seen the 1967 film?


    • June 15, 2015 at 9:25 pm

      Glad I made you laugh;
      I haven’t seen the 1967 film. Is it good?


      • June 19, 2015 at 9:38 pm

        It’s been a long time since I saw it and it may seem dated now (loved it a few years ago) but Bathsheba was very well cast. She had that sensuality and earthiness.


  5. June 11, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    By coincidence I just watched Polanski’s Tess, so I should probably rent this too for comparison.

    Someone should write a feature-length essay on “meaningful eye contact” in contemporary cinema. I suspect part of that resides in the economics of filmmaking, and part in screenwriters being unable to achieve enough compression of language in making the adaptation from novel to script. Can’t find the words? Just have the characters throw sidelong looks at one another!


    • June 15, 2015 at 9:17 pm

      The comparison would be interesting although I suspect the books are very different.
      It’s incredible these meaningful glances, isn’t it? They try to pack so much in a few second glance that it seems unreal.
      I think Gabriel is bolder in the book, he’s tougher with Bathsheba.


  6. June 16, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    Polished is the great flaw of most historical dramas. Everything tends to look like it was just bought the day before, and tends to be of the period depicted.

    That last point might sound odd, but in the current BBC series The Game set in 1972 some interiors are made up to look more 1960s, flagging that the characters in those rooms are poor or have stopped engaging with the world or whatever.

    Basically, we don’t all look of our time, because most of us have stuff we already bought previously. Historical dramas often forget that, making everything a bit too current.

    The film sounds well done overall, but too neat for Hardy, too polished as you say.


    • June 17, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      “Basically, we don’t all look of our time, because most of us have stuff we already bought previously. Historical dramas often forget that, making everything a bit too current.”
      That’s an excellent point. I’d never thought about it that way, but you’re right. None of us throws away everything we have as soon as it gets out of style. It may only work for clothes.

      I was surprised by the ad for the film. The picture I’ve inserted in my billet doesn’t represent the book at all. Sure, it’s from a key moment of the book but it’s mostly a book set in the country, among farmers and Bathsheba doesn’t hesitate to participate to farm work. The poster makes her look like a socialite from upper classes. How odd.


  7. July 11, 2015 at 5:37 am

    Fortunately I have husband who, though not a huge reader, when he does it’s things like Jane Austen. In fact, he, an Australian, has just read Pride and prejudice twice in German, and Persuasion once in German. So, he comes to these classic period dramas with pleasure.

    We just saw Far from the Madding Crown a couple of nights ago, and we were a little less enthusiastic than you, a bit more like Arti. I did enjoy seeing it, though, and I agree that Carey Mulligan wasn’t right. Whether that was her or whether it was direction and script I’m not sure, but perhaps a bit of both. (I like her a lot too). We felt it lacked the power and tension of Hardy’s story as Bathsheba struggles with what she wants.

    The cinematography was gorgeous. I’ve never been to Dorset but I sure want to go now.


    • July 11, 2015 at 10:38 pm

      I guess I was too relieved to see they didn’t cut or alter the plot to care much about anything else. The landscapes were fantastic, luminous.
      I agree with you, Bathsheba and Gabriel are more intense in the book.

      How do you think Far From the Madding Crowd compares to Emma, by the way?


      • July 12, 2015 at 1:03 am

        Hmm, good question Emma, but one I shouldn’t answer as I know Emma far better than I know Far from the madding crowd. Overall, I really like Hardy but I love Austen. She’s so wicked about real people. Not that Hardy’s aren’t real, but it’s Austen’s knowingness about the day-to-day relationships and her ability to skewer pretence, ridiculousness, etc, that I just love.


        • July 12, 2015 at 9:57 pm

          Ah, too bad you don’t want to try it.
          Austen has a wonderful sense of humour and such a witty vision of people and their flaws and pettiness.
          The big difference with the Hardys I’ve read is the use of coincidences. She’s more subtle about the use of coincidences, although I suspect Hardy plays with them and the reader. It’s as if he uses incredible coincidences and dares us to protest and stop reading. In Hardy, I feel that interaction with the reader, the way to play with the codes of the novel and it’s like he hovers over the book and winks at us.
          Austen seems to make us see the world she lives in and she sounds part of her fictional world. Hardy knows his fictional world very well (His love for country life in his fictional Wessex is genuine) but he keeps the position of a writer, the distance. I’m not sure I’m clear.


          • July 13, 2015 at 12:07 am

            Oh, it’s not so much that I don’t want to try it, as I love Hardy but unless my reading group scheduled it, if I were going to read Hardy I’d prefer to read one I haven’t read, than re-read this one. You are right about coincidence and Hardy. It’s what gets him into trouble with some readers isn’t it? I’m not sure that I agree re Austen being part of her world. In Northanger Abbey she’s very much evident at the writer, but I think in the others too you can sense the writer’s commentary on what is going on. However, it’s hard for me to compare her with Hardy in this sense because it’s been a long time since I read him. The newest member of my reading group is a Hardy fan and I know there are others interested so maybe we’ll do one next year. That would be good!


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