Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd

*Spoilers ahead* I would never want to ruin anyone's reading or viewing experience of this story so please only read this if you are aware of the plot points and ending!

The Film

I went to see Far from the Madding Crowd yesterday and felt inspired to blog about my thoughts on it. I absolutely love movies. I have a fairly diverse taste (for instance, the last film I went to see before this was Age of Ultron) but I do particularly love period dramas. They are good for me personally as a jewellery designer/maker, providing inspiration and quite often a background for when I am performing the slightly tedious and time-consuming task of polishing silver by hand. I quite often have a film on in the background and dip in and out of series like Pride and Prejudice when I am pottering about, working from home. Far from the Madding Crowd, I can guarantee, will be part of my dvd collection. I love the story anyway but this interpretation on film is, I think, a worthy take on the source material.

There are a few deviations from the book and at times I felt I might have done things slightly differently but overall I was particularly impressed by both the casting/performances and the look of the film. 

It seems that we are all viewing historic rural landscapes through a rosy lens nowadays. From the BBC's latest adaptation of Poldark in particular, with its glowing sunsets, rolling waves and silhouetted figures riding across the horizon to Alan Rickman's A Little Chaos, which has a particularly striking scene showing a procession delivery of a tree! Incidentally, this scene is about 10 seconds in on the trailer. I have no problem with this. I work in an art gallery so I am very much preoccupied with the visual and Far from the Madding Crowd is undoubtedly gorgeous. The scene where Bathsheba meets Sergeant Troy in the forest is dreamlike and reminiscent of animations such as Princess Mononoke and Bambi.

In terms of casting and performances, I was struck by how much Carey Mulligan seems to have matured as an actress. The director, Thomas Vinterberg often lingers on the actors allowing them to relay their character's inner feelings and Mulligan is absolutely wonderful at conveying Bathsheba's independent spirit and her horror at how her life is spiralling out of her control, both as a result of a thoughtless act with a Valentine's card and in her relationship with Sergeant Troy. I think that she comes across as an actor that really respects and knows her craft. 

When I heard that Michael Sheen was going to be cast as Boldwood I was convinced that he would be perfect and I wasn't disappointed. He does an excellent job and there is a powerful moment when he confesses to Gabriel about his devastation, his "grief", never to be relayed to Bathsheba following her marriage to Troy. This brief glimpse at his utter unravelling really does let you know that this can never end well for him. Matthias Schoenearts is suitably quiet and steady as Gabriel Oak although I still remember Nathaniel Parker's more evident warmth in this role. Gabriel Oak (a most fantastic character name) may not be as moody as Ross Poldark or have such beautiful grounds compared to Fitzwilliam Darcy but his unfailing support and unconditional love are surely worth prizing in a romantic hero.

The Book

I believe in libraries but I do also own a fair few books. They are usually second hand because I love the sense of uniqueness particularly if the pages are edged in gold! My copy of Far from the Madding Crowd was purchased last year from a second hand book shop called Ian K Pugh Books at 40 Bridge St, Pershore, WR10 1AT. The inscription inside reads Sylvia Barrett 30/1/28 and this edition was published in 1925. 

There are a few parts of the book that really struck me when I first read them. I know Thomas Hardy is sometimes considered to be slightly depressing but the sheer quality of his writing is worth any apparent gloominess as long as you can try to get over the absolute tragedy of Fanny Robin's end.

The ways that the film slightly differed from the book made me consider the plot more closely. Firstly, in the book, Bathsheba saves Gabriel from his shepherd's hut after he closes the vents to keep out a particularly bitter wind and nearly suffocates. I wonder whether by denying Bathsheba her moment of heroism it detracts from the intensity of their initial encounters. Gabriel says "I believe you saved my life" and earlier "How can I thank ye?" Whilst he is obviously immediately attracted to Bathsheba even before this incident, I felt that by leaving this scene out, some of the nuance of obligation and initial intimacy between the pair was lost.

I would imagine that time constraints and a sense of the potential opportunity for heightened tragedy later on in the film led to the omission of the scene after Sergeant Troy and Fanny Robin's failed marriage. When he meets Fanny on the street and she begs him to forgive her for mistaking the location of the church, the sense of Troy's humiliation and immaturity shine through. I would have included this moment as an aid to the development of each character although there is a great moment in the film where Bathsheba observes Troy chasing geese. You know it is not a meeting of minds!

Whilst on the subject of characterisation, Liddy is given a decent enough amount of screen time but the other farm folk are kept as more of a backdrop. Their personalities could have injected more warmth and humour and a greater contrast between the experience of the rich and poor but I imagine this is sacrificed to highlight the romance of the story.

The other moment between Gabriel and Bathsheba that was altered was her final visit to his house (it is relocated outdoors). In the book, the contrast between living situations and the glimpse at farmer Oak's meagre but practical possessions, illustrates the strength and longevity of Gabriel's feelings towards Bathsheba. He is willing to live humbly in order to support her.

The shift in the balance of power towards a more equal and mutual understanding is also encapsulated in the following exchange, which is omitted from the film:

"...Why Gabriel," she said, with a slight laugh, as they went to the door, "it seems exactly as if I had come courting you - how dreadful!"

"And quite right too," said Oak. "I've danced at your skittish heels, my beautiful Bathsheba, for many a long mile, and many a long day; and it is hard to begrudge me this one visit."

For me, one of the most important summaries of the relationship is this:

“Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other's character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship—camaraderie—usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death—that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.”

At the end of the book, you get a sense of their prospective happiness. Bathsheba has been tamed by heartbreak and misfortune and you have to wonder whether we are meant to think that she deserved this. Her self-assurance at the beginning of her journey is unmade and then restored to a lesser extent by her life experience. Her one true act of folly, in the form of a Valentine to Boldwood (which allows Gabriel to berate her with a certain sense of satisfaction) leads to a rather unfair punishment as Boldwood's obsession becomes overwhelmingly oppressive and ultimately dangerous.

For me, the ultimate success of Gabriel Oak's suit is when the reader moves away from any notions of an ideal relationship (a confirmed happily ever after) and begins to understand that this is more of a partnership for survival with love cemented by constancy and shared ideals. I'm not trying to take the romance out of it but it is a more mature and steady relationship and stronger for it.


I often notice the costumes in films and my jewellery has been inspired by the colours and styles of historic costumes in films including Elizabeth The Golden Age and Belle. The costumes in Far from the Madding Crowd were designed by Jane Patterson. She won a BAFTA for The Piano and has been nominated for an oscar four times for The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady, Oscar and Lucinda and Bright Star.

What I noticed particularly with Carey Mulligan's costumes for her role as Bathsheba was how strikingly modern she looked. The patterns were not at all dissimilar to the Jacobean and paisley patterns that have been very popular on the high street in recent years. Also, one of her dresses appeared to be made from denim. I liked this use of costumes to give a modern sense to the character. I'd be quite happy to wear some of her dresses myself! The movie still below shows not only the harmonious use of colour in the film but also demonstrates some of the design elements that I am referring to.

The National Trust have a selection of the costumes from the film at Claydon and Hardy's Cottage until 5th July 2015.

Please feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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