Since its publication in 1874, Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd has become widely-known as his most iconic novel about love. The main character, Bathsheba Everdene (not related to Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, as a matter of fact), attracts three men in 19th-century England. With a plot that throws every soap opera out of the water, several film adaptations have brought it to life, including a 1967 version starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp. For someone who has never read the book, this version directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) will forever be in my memory.
Here, Carey Mulligan (An Education, 2013 version of The Great Gatsby) plays the farm owner Bathsheba, who lives on a farm in Dorset. The movie opens with her [symbolically] riding her horse through the fields as Craig Armstrong’s fabulous score plays in the background. She catches her eye on Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a hard-working sheep farmer with two sheepdogs. When he asks to marry her, Bathsheba refuses not because she hates him. But because she is too independent for him.
She becomes attracted to another man. His name is William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a wealthy landowner and the most mature of the three. Bathsheba sends him a valentine as a joke. Their attraction, however, fires up when they perform a duet of “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” during a dinner party in one of the most beautiful scenes of the movie. Her third bachelor, Sgt. Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), has never seen a woman as beautiful as Bathsheba. He invites her to the woods to show off his sword-fighting skills. But, there’s a problem: Troy is a gambler, and cares more for Fanny Robbin (Juno Temple), a former lover of his. Between these three men, Bathsheba’s pride must come into play when she ends up with one of them.
After collaborating with 2012’s The Hunt, Vinterberg and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen capture the beauty in Far from the Madding Crowd with its use of close-ups and vast widescreen shots of rural England. Most of the scenes are shot outside with natural lighting. The period-correct sets and costumes make it all the more exquisite. Even though everyone did an astounding job, Mulligan’s performance is one for the ages. The best love affair in recent memory!