In Far from the Madding Crowd, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s serial novel, a fiercely independent woman named Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) must choose between three stubborn male suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), an angelic and sturdy bough of a man; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a brooding wolf-man of great wealth; and Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a dashing and ribald tin soldier. Each one proposes marriage to her more or less immediately, and the indecisive but self-confident heroine, in her shifting desires, strings them along as far as she can. Things get complicated.
Director Thomas Vinterberg faithfully tells this 2015 rendition of the oft-retold classic, maintaining the pastoral gentility of the period-piece genre without drowning it in sappy sentiment. Hardy wrote of a tragic universe stitched with sad happenstance, and Vinterberg does well to maintain both the more shadowy elements of Hardy’s style as well as his lyrical sweetness. Charlotte Bruus Christensen deserves special mention for her cinematography. Each scene is bathed in beautiful countryside light, making this more of a moving landscape painting than a film; a scene of beached livestock, dead underneath the rising sun, is a memorable masterwork.
Even those who tend to shy away from the stiff, stodgy style of period pieces will likely find much to enjoy in this sumptuous film. Hardy was and still is a great storyteller, and his adapters here have done an excellent job upholding his habit of deferring and derailing the outcome so that not one seems especially obvious. The ending feels a little rushed, given all the twists and turns it took to get there, but better to have more buildup and less sweet hereafter.
It’s a well-timed classic in our online-dating era, with options and indecisions galore. Though our suitors and wooers these days may no longer offer us a baby lamb or piano on first visit, the story’s questions of commitment to self and others are still compelling. Follow to the end of this twisting tale, and see why Hardy’s story has lasted so; the best tales, like the best loves, are the ones that endure.