FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is a stunning looking period love quadrangle story based on a classic from Thomas Hardy, no not Bane/ Mad Max, another Thomas Hardy, an author and poet who wrote this story in 1874. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival, and we were lucky to score an invite to an early screening thanks to the fine folks at Cardinal Spin. Kernel Morgan reviews this one, appropriate considering she has changed her middle name to Hardy in worship of Thomas Hardy, no not the poet, the Bane/ Mad Max one. Mum, I know you will read this – put this on your absolute must see list – in fact – everyone – this would be an ideal one to take the parents to, the grandparents even :). FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is rated M and runs for 118mins – this will have a cinema release so stay tuned! All the best………..JK.
BY MORGAN BELL
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is set in pastoral Victorian England, in pre-industrial times where shepherd is a legitimate profession and people baled hay by hand. The film is based on the Thomas Hardy novel of the same name from 1874. Hardy wrote many classic Romantic English novels about rural life and the reversals of fortune, such as JUDE THE OBSCURE, THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE, RETURN OF THE NATIVE, and TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES.
The title refers to a line from a Thomas Gray poem ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD (1751), a meditation on death as the equalising factor between rich and poor, as the narrator ponders the lives of obscure rustics buried in a churchyard: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, Their sober wishes never learned to stray; Along the cool sequestered vale of life, They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.” Gray pays homage to Drummond of Hawthornden’s SONNET 43 (1614) about moving to the country after a death: “What sweet Delight a quiet Life affords, And what it is to bee of Bondage free, Farre from the madding Worldlings hoarse Discords, Sweet flowrie Place I first did learne of thee”. I give you this little literary history to show you there is a long-standing chain of echoing these themes in English storytelling. Loss highlights the value of appreciating a quiet simple life.
Romantic literature is all about human destiny being linked to nature, the most successful characters being those who are closest to the land and maintain their good character in any type of weather. We are all just worm-food in the end. The Old English word “madding” means “insanity inducing”, and the “crowd” refers to the trappings of the city, or the township, or the mob engaged in group-think: the herd.
So enters the shepherd love interest of Miss Everdene (Carey Mulligan, AN EDUCATION, NEVER LET ME GO, SHAME), Mr Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts, A LITTLE CHAOS, THE DROP). Mr Oak, as his name suggests, is as sturdy and (morally and emotionally) deep-rooted as a majestic oak tree. He works the land and understands the weather and makes the best of what he has in good times and in bad. He is the honourable constant in what is one of literatures best romantic stories.
Miss Everdene is an orphan who inherits her uncle’s farm. We see her over a span of time before she gains her fortune, during the time of rehabilitating the farm and fighting for respect as a female merchant at the local farmers market (demanding her place in the industry like Beatrix in MISS POTTER or the women of NORTH COUNTY), and in times of personal turmoil with three suitors vying for her hand in marriage even though her social position means she has no need for a husband, as she tells us many times over. This plot is reminiscent of EMMA, both in the naivety and fierce independence of the female protagonist, and in the gentle chastising of her loyal male protector, where Mr Oak is a country bumpkin version of a Mr Knightly type.
The underlying message of this film is that your true character is shown in how you behave when you are subject to a reversal of fortune. The older established land owner Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen, FROST/NIXON, THE QUEEN) is besotted with Miss Everdene, the pair singing the most beautiful and electric duet of “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” (traditional song) impromptu at a farmhouse dinner, forming a bond with music. Mr Boldwood is her equal in situation but is stern and emotionally stunted. He is contrasted by Sgt Troy (Tom Sturridge, ON THE ROAD, THE BOAT THAT ROCKED), an impulsive young soldier, with an off-putting moustache, who wears his heart on his sleeve and is sexually forward. A display of phallic swordplay in the woods unbalances Miss Everdene from her usual sensible self. He slices off a lock of her hair and tells her he could skin her alive with his blade. Sexual tension in the outdoors à la RYAN’S DAUGHTER or FIRST KNIGHT.
There is a stand-out performance from Juno Temple as the tragic Fanny, a former lover of Sgt Troy, and former employee of the farm Miss Everdeen inherits. She is a love-sick free spirit, who, through the fate of a miscommunication and unwavering devotion, becomes tragically unwell. As Mr Boldwood later confesses about Miss Everdene “she promised me nothing, and yet I feel this terrible grief”. Set to an original score by Craig Armstrong (MOULIN ROUGE, THE GREAT GATSBY, ROMEO & JULIET) the forlorn violin overtures tug at the heart-strings in this stormy romance and heighten the drama.
To so effortlessly encapsulate the spirit of the literary reference material in 119 minutes of screen time is nothing short of a triumph. The weather is an ever-present character in the film, wind battering the weary, downpours foreshadowing the consequences of the reckless, and the heartbreak of an entire flock of sheep being herded off a rocky sea cliff mirroring rejection and defeat. The film-makers conveyed the atmosphere of organic growth and fertile ground, both of the land and of the characters who inhabit it. This film at both time respects the traditions on which it is based, and feels as fresh and spacious as a gust rippling through an open field, while laying out a complex plot. The beauty is in the simplicity.