This article contains some spoilers.
Recently, I was given the chance to see the new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd at the Gulbenkian cinema in Canterbury.
Let me start by saying that adaptations are really hard to review because you have to analyse the film separately from its plotline. Now, I am not Thomas Hardy’s biggest fan—I think Tess of the D’Urbervilles is completely over-rated and aggravating as a modern reader. However, I was more impressed with Far From the Madding Crowd than I was expecting. But, with that said, my expectations weren’t very high—it could only have gone up.
I went into this film completely blind. I knew the poem the title came from, and that Thomas Hardy had written the novel the film is based on. I had no idea how the film would end, or what I was supposed to think of the characters. So I’m going to do a quick plot synopsis before I begin my review properly.
The story follows a woman called Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), who was orphaned by her parents at a young age. She’s restless and knows her own mind. Whilst working on a farm, she meets Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) who falls in love with her. When she’s a young adult she inherits her uncle’s farm, and the rest of the film follows her attempts at love and running the farm as a woman. But notably it’s about her relations with her neighbour Boldwood, who is crazy in love with her, and her (SPOILERS) eventual marriage to Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge).
Immediately I fell in love with Bathsheba Everdene; Carey Mulligan is forever amazing, and it was refreshing to see a woman like Bathsheba after Tess. She’s empowered, and just what I needed to see in order to restore my faith in Hardy. There were so many moments where I found myself in awe of her and wishing I could have her confidence. We could use someone like her right now.
As for the other actors, Matthias Schoenaerts was underused and I couldn’t feel enough chemistry between him and Carey Mulligan. Individually, they expressed their love, but together it just didn’t feel right. It would be the only criticism I have for Mulligan as an actress, because I can always tell when she has no chemistry with an actor (see The Great Gatsby for evidence). Furthermore, I felt like Schoenaerts’ lines were constantly cut so it wasn’t too obvious that his English accent was dodgy. On a similar note, I absolutely adore Michael Sheen and think he’s an amazing actor but he was completely underused and was never given space to show his incredible talent; especially when reading up online what the character should have been like.
But the one I’m most confused about is Tom Sturridge. I cannot, for the life of me, work out whether he was appallingly bad or quite good. There were moments that had me cowering behind my hands he was so cringe-inducing, but, knowing Hardy, I think that was the aim. I don’t think writer David Nicholls (of One Day fame) did anyone justice with their lines. I’ve always found that about David Nicholls; he has a knack for creating half-baked characters.
But on a more positive note, the score was breath-taking. It set the tone and instantly made me well-up in the opening scene. The only cringe-inducing moment with the music was when Bathsheba and Boldwood sing together about guarding your ‘thyme’. The camera-work was also good, showing the Dorset countryside beautifully and almost making farm-work seem appealing. I loved everything Bathsheba wore, and the locations were beautiful and time-appropriate.
Overall, I’m still out on whether this film is actually any good. I think they all did especially well with the bad script and actual novel to adapt. I can’t help thinking a TV adaption in three parts could have done a better job, getting the depth that Hardy prides himself in without losing the magic of a good cast and team altogether. I think if you’re a Hardy fan this film might let you down quite a bit. So although I enjoyed the experience of watching it and felt a lot of emotions, I won’t be running to see it again in a hurry.
Editor’s Note: Far From the Madding Crowd is still showing at the Gulbenkian. You can book tickets for Thursday 11th June 2015 and Friday 13th June 2015 here: https://uk.patronbase.com/_Gulbenkian/Performances/List?prod_id=FMJ1