Far From the Madding Crowd
Bathsheba Everdene is a rarity in late 19th-century England: a woman with options.
The fiery, independent young lady has been on her own most of her life, what with her parents dying when she was young and all. And that independence isn't something she intends to squander. Especially when it comes to … marriage.
Bathsheba's irrepressible, stereotype-shattering persona only makes her more attractive to the three very different men who pursue her in Far From the Madding Crowd, the latest cinematic adaptation of Thomas Hardy's breakthrough 1874 novel.
She meets the stouthearted Gabriel Oak, a faithful sheepherder, first. He wastes no time proposing, telling her his modest 100-acre farm and 200 sheep could provide whatever similarly modest desires he thinks Bathsheba's heart might harbor: a piano, flowers, dresses … the stuff most normal women of the time presumably longed for, judging by the way Mr. Oak makes his pitch.
But Bathsheba Everdene is no normal woman.
"I don't want a husband," she says bluntly. "I should hate to be someone's property." Then she adds, "I'm too independent for you. … You'd come to despise me."
"I would not," Gabriel counters. "Ever."
But it's absolutely no use trying to bend Miss Everdene's will. And so Mr. Oak dutifully, if sadly, accepts Bathsheba's hasty response.
Of course the two aren't done with each other yet.
Circumstances soon leave Mr. Oak bankrupt and penniless, while Miss Everdene becomes an heiress when an uncle bequeaths his considerable estate (including a farm) to her. It's no surprise, then, that the now-homeless Gabriel ends up in charge of Bathsheba's new agricultural endeavors, stoically stuffing down his romantic emotions.
And that's when we get to the part about Bathsheba's other two suitors: the older but noble neighbor Mr. William Boldwood and the much younger, decidedly less noble Sgt. Francis Troy.
Two worthy sorts and one scoundrel. Guess which one our fiercely independent young Brit picks?
Strong and charming, Miss Everdene is certainly full of spunk and pluck. She courageously wades into the details of managing her estate, both the financial aspects as well as the day-to-day activities related to farming, steadfastly earning the respect and admiration of those who doubted a woman could do either of those things well.
When she ultimately makes a wrong choice while sorting out her suitors, it doesn't take long for her to recognize the error of her ways, and she eventually says of her unwise decision, "I used to have contempt for girls dazzled by a man in a scarlet uniform," confessing that she became one of their number. And then, as hard as it is, she resolves to respectably and morally ride out the disastrous union.
Gabriel Oak and William Boldwood, meanwhile, are observably men of character and conviction. Oak warns Bathsheba about Sgt. Troy, saying he's a man "with no conscience at all," and counseling her to "stay clear" and not listen to him or believe his lies. (Oak's right.) Ever mindful of his tongue, though, Mr. Oak doesn't voluntarily bring up the subject of his affection for Bathsheba after she rejects him. And he volunteers to help minimize the ruinous influence Troy will surely have on her estate. Indeed, more than once, he risks life and limb to preserve Bathsheba's good name and/or fortune.
Mr. Boldwood is not altogether different from Mr. Oak. He's older, and there are rumors that a love affair ended badly for him many years before. Still, he promises sincerely to take care of Miss Everdene, both physically and emotionally.
Several scenes occur in a rural church. We hear a snippet of the Christmas carol "O come, O come, Emmanuel." A portion of a tapestry hanging in Bathsheba's dining room reads, "God Bless Them."
A rendezvous in the forest finds Everdene and Troy kissing passionately, with him grabbing at her crotch (outside her dress). After their wedding, the couple's shown in bed (he's bare-chested, she's wearing undergarments) as they consummate their relationship in a brief, shadowy sex scene that's more mentally evocative than it is explicit. (A tight shot of their shoulders and heads shows them kissing and clutching.)
We learn that Troy impregnated his former fiancée. Another couple kisses passionately. A pile of clothes on the beach tells us that a man swimming in the ocean (seen from a distance) is naked. To say goodbye, a man tenderly kisses the lips of a dead woman whom he once loved deeply.
In what seems like a misguided attempt to somehow prove his manhood to Bathsheba, Troy orders her to stand still as he performs a slashing sword routine perilously close to her face. (He purposely cuts off a piece of her hair.) Elsewhere, he handles her roughly, repeatedly grabbing her wrists and pulling at her.
A man is shot and killed (resulting in prison time for the shooter). Someone tries to commit suicide by swimming out into the open ocean. We see a deceased woman and her child in a casket. Mr. Oak climbs atop a burning barn, risking his life to put out the fire.
A sheepdog chases a herd off a cliff. We see the bloody impact of two sheep crashing down on the rocks below, as well as the scattered corpses of the other animals. Mr. Oak pierces a sheep's bloated stomach with a sharp instrument to save its life.
Crude or Profane Language
The Lord's name is hastily exclaimed twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
People drink ale and wine throughout. Francis and Bathsheba's raucous wedding reception includes much imbibing and inebriation, and it becomes increasingly clear that the soldier's long list of character faults includes drunkenness.
Other Negative Elements
Sgt. Troy is dissolute in just about every way imaginable. Beyond all the drinking, he refuses to work on the farm, chasing animals like a deranged child instead. He squanders much of Bathsheba's fortune on gambling. And his seductive wooing of Bathsheba quickly turns cruel and emotionally abusive once the couple is married.
Far From the Madding Crowd checks most of the requisite British period piece boxes. Conflicted, spunky, boundary-breaking heroine? Check. Young and smoldering noble suitor with no reasonable chance of winning her heart? Check. Older worthy suitor, also with no reasonable chance of winning her heart? Check. Dastardly, duplicitous cad whom we all know will end up winning her heart … at least temporarily? Check.
Unlike most period pieces, however, Bathsheba Everdene—and, yes, her surname was the inspiration for another, more contemporary Everdeen named Katniss—is largely unconstrained by societal expectations. She exults in her independence, propelled by her headstrong willingness to do whatever she wants without much thought to the consequences. After all, what good is independence, she essentially says, if you "throw it away" at the first possibility of marriage?
That attitude, however, eventually leads to her disastrous, ill-considered capitulation to Sgt. Troy's scheming seductions—a choice that obliterates her happiness and, ironically, her independence as well. That, of course, throws the goodness of the two suitors she's rejected into much sharper relief. And in this respect, Far From the Madding Crowd offers a cautionary tale about the perils of falling for flash over bedrock relational qualities like loyalty, faithfulness and sacrificial commitment.
I'm not sure it's truly a spoiler to tell you that in this 140-year-old tale it's romantically satisfying when Bathsheba and her steadfast Mr. Oak finally end up together (after her horrible hubby's untimely demise). On another level, though, I couldn't help but feel that Bathsheba's purported independence also serves as a cloak for her own manipulation, narcissism and refusal to commit. Sure, she's charming and beautiful and gloriously strong willed. But she also toys with her two worthy suitors in ways that hurt them badly … and they're largely willing to stick around for more such treatment.
Does that reflect their inherently noble hearts? Or is more of an inflamed refusal to move on? Is it right and good to keep the spark alive for a woman who uses her independence to snub and ensnare? To serve her own passions? To do exactly what she wants to do, at almost any cost?
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene; Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak; Michael Sheen as William Boldwood; Tom Sturridge as Sgt. Francis Troy; Juno Temple as Fanny Robbin; Jessica Barden as Liddy
Thomas Vinterberg ( )
May 1, 2015
August 4, 2015