I should start by admitting that I have not read Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Literary heathen I hear you cry. Well, I’m doing my best. I’m more interested in reading classics than ever before, but at this rate (about two per year) I might schedule it for retirement! I do love cinema though. Mainly because it’s the chance for me to sit still and uninterrupted, in total silence, for a whole two hours. So when the chance came up to combine this with watching an adaptation of a classic, I jumped at it.
Far from the Madding Crowd is tale of a young woman, Bathsheba Everdene, who is unexpectedly thrust into the world of farming and her ensuing struggle to hold her own in a male dominated industry. Although there is a strong subtext of equality for women, the all-important choice for Miss Everdene, played by Carey Mulligan, is that of her husband. The irony of this is not lost. She’s strong and managing on her own but would be stronger with a good husband. She has the pick of three suitors, each offering a very different life. Simplified these options are security and status with Mr Boldwood, passion and excitement with Sergeant Troy, or love and care with Mr Oak. Of course she should choose Mr Oak, but her standing means she should marry well and the class divide means the young shepherd, Mr Oak, has little to offer.
Michael Sheen is predictably brilliant as Mr Boldwood. His character’s care for Miss Everdene and therefore vulnerability, make him endearing rather than sinister. Leaving the sinister edge for Frank Troy, played by Tom Sturridge. Although despicable and callous in his actions, Frank’s sub-story is tragic in its own right. And then there is Mr Oak. Deep sigh. What I really love about period dramas is the allure of a simpler life. No mobile phones, no internet, no big wide world. This is personified in Gabriel Oak, with his sad old duffel bag containing all his worldy goods. As the dark and brooding leading man, Matthias Schoenaerts is very cool. Minimal lines, maximum humility, twinkling baby blues and the promise of a rippling chest that we never – NEVER – get to see. Winning combination.
Then to Carey Mulligan, who is simply a wonder. Essentially delivering all the drama alone, she is a formidable leading lady. Miss Everdene is strong minded, strong willed and strong temperamented, and the chemistry between her and Mr Oak is palpable. Several times my sister and I came up for air from our popcorn to shake our kernal covered fists at the screen, imploring one of the two to “make a move”. Which is why the ending is so horribly disappointing. SPOILER ALERT: She picks Mr Oak. Great! But surely years of wanton lust would lead to bit of passion, no? That’s what the characters in the film portrayed anyway. But apparently not because what we got was a less than mediocre kiss and Mr Oak disappearing from the shot to go pick up his duffel bag! Sorry, but the romantic in me will not allow this as an acceptable ending to one of the great love stories. I’m not suggesting that they drop down in the middle of the field (although there are a couple of more risqué scenes in the film) but SOME passion would do. Instead there was a huge build up … to holding hands and going for a walk. Yes, I get that they are walking off into the sunset, but the all important kiss, THE kiss was totally unconvincing.
Verdict: Great film, awful final scene.