There was applause at the end of the sneak preview of Far from the Madding Crowd. Not unreserved applause, mind you. What I heard sounded like a small group of people that loved the movie and believed if they clapped determinately enough, the rest of us might be convinced to join in. Despite their efforts, most of the crowd opted not to participate.
A tale of pluck and romance set in Victorian England, the film is based on Thomas Hardy’s celebrated 1874 novel. I’m not a fan of the genre. Watching people struggle to find love and fulfillment within an oppressive culture doesn’t entertain me, it just pisses me off. I was in a cooperative mood, though, so I sat back and waited to be swept away.
Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, a young woman who inherits her uncle’s farm and decides to make a go of it herself. Good for you, Bathsheba! Fight the power! Seize the day! But wait a minute…Thomas Hardy is no Jane Austen and Bathsheba is only progressive in areas of business. When it comes to her personal life, she’s a mess. “I don’t want a husband,” she says. “And if I were to marry, I’d want someone to tame me.”
What is up with that? If you are self-aware enough to make such a statement, you should be able to temper your behavior without direction from somebody else. Be your own master, Bathsheba!
Three potential tamers enter Bathsheba’s life. Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts, a brooding Ryan Gosling type) is a farmer who ends up becoming a shepherd at Bathsheba’s place. He’s sensible, sensitive, multi-skilled and hunky. He proposes, she says no. Mr. Boldwood (Michael Sheen) is a very proper fellow who wears his insecurities on his sleeves. The more he yaps about how unworthy he is, the more you believe him. He proposes, she says no. I applaud her decision.
And then there’s Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a studly young man with cheeks so red it looks like he’s wearing makeup. With his mustache and scraggy chest hair, it’s clear this dude is bad news (heroes in movies have well-groomed body hair). He proposes and, of course, Bathsheba says yes, because that’s how Victorian romantic movies work.
Elements of the plot, by the way, came from Hardy’s life. The Bathsheba/Gabriel dynamic mirrored Hardy’s own longtime courtship of a woman. And Boldwood represented an acquaintance of Hardy’s who eventually killed himself.
Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) crafts a handsome film, then lets the string section goo everything up. There’s a lurching quality to the production, as if key connective scenes were left out. From what I was shown, I couldn’t invest in the characters. I understand that Gabriel is so in love that he can’t bring himself to leave, but after a while, I grew impatient with him for not moving on. And Bathsheba just seems too smart in business matters to be so stupid in matters of the heart.