Far from the Madding Crowd :: A period drama that’s a bit too old school

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I sometimes wonder about adapting older books into modern movies, meaning, I wonder if what worked back then still works now in the same context. Or are severe adaptation choices needed to make the movies palatable version of these classics? I look at something like The Scarlet Letter and its over the top sexuality, which the prudish Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of the book, would’ve decried as perverse and immoral. Or perhaps there are those books like Pride and Prejudice, adapted into period and modern versions of the tale. The truth is that the answer seems to be that it depends on the source material; sometimes it translates, and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it’s halfway there.

Far from the Madding Crowd, a movie based on the 1874 book by Thomas Hardy, is the latest adaptation of a book already adapted several times, the earliest in 1915 as a silent film. But the story is deceptively simple. Young Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a lovely orphaned girl living with her aunt in the middle of the countryside. But after a bit of flirtations with local sturdy and handsome farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), Gabriel proposes to her. It’s the 19th century, and she’s an unmarried lady over 18, so she’ll say yes, right? Nope! She’s far too independent, unlike many of her peers, despite her lack of prospects. So that’s all for now, until circumstances change.

Soon, Bathsheba has inherited a farm from her recently deceased uncle and is running it by herself. And who do you think needs a job? It’s Gary! But that’s not the end of it; Bathsheba also finds a suitor in local rich landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), an older but quite reasonable prospect. After a few misunderstandings, he too proposes marriage, but again, Bathsheba declines. Things proceed from there, with some jealousy and pain, etc. Soon enough, another suitor is on the scene, dashing but troubled Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), a man poorly dealing with a loss of a marriage to another (Juno Temple).

Everyone is great here acting-wise. tweet

The movie is awash with pain and hardship, confusion over values, and wondering about the true value of love. Bathsheba isn’t a perfect person, despite her proto-neo-feminism, she makes more than a few mistakes, leading to more pain down the line. The book has been out for over a hundred years, but I don’t think I’ll spoil the twists and ending just in case. I suppose I can’t really judge the movie on the story alone, as it is quite close to the original. Instead, I can look at how it works or doesn’t. Everyone is great here acting-wise, with Carey Mulligan showing us quite a range from winsome to agonized. At first, I felt annoyed by the choices of the characters, but I realized that it wasn’t the story that bothered me.

The pace of the movie is a bit messy. tweet

The pace of the movie is a bit messy; it starts with a bit of a jolt, and then keeps you interested for the first hour. But as the second hour keeps going, it becomes more like “Oh, another bit of trouble?” and it’s hard to stay interested. The ending seemed pretty obvious to me, but it’s an old book, so I guess I can’t be too judgmental. I appreciate the idea of taking this older story with a set of complicated characters and using it to make a mild commentary on today, but I don’t feel the story is that unique anymore. This isn’t a problem like Winter’s Tale or anything, the movie is quite watchable. But it didn’t cross the line for me into “must see,” more like “that was alright.”

Part of it is the connection to the characters; I didn’t particularly find myself caring about all the ebbs and flows of the relationship drama. Sometimes something interesting happened, but it was a very slow burn. That’s fine at times, but this two hour movie just didn’t pace quite right for me. Engaging at first, a bit messy in the end. A solid effort though.


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