Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

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Before I get into the actual review, I have to admit how insanely rare it is for me to go into a theater and see a movie these days. When I have the option of waiting until DVD / cable / Netflix vs. going to a theater, I’ll usually wait. The movie screen experience gives me headaches, and I’m seriously annoyed by other people harshing my mellow with their incessant chatter. But I love Thomas Hardy like crazy and so does my husband, and we had an afternoon free and made an old-fashioned date of it. Yes, I got a bit of a headache, and yes, stupid people did talk through the movie, but my sweetie and I held hands and had a good time none the less!

Far From the Madding Crowd is, of course, based on Thomas Hardy’s novel published in 1874, and a title in the first few minute sof the film names the setting as “1870 Dorset, England.” I guess they needed to put that date in front of the film because the first thing we see is a woman (Carey Mulligan, playing the main character, Bathsheba Everdene) riding into the scene wearing a leather jacket and leather pants like some kind of steampunk chick. Yes, LEATHER and PANTS. Um, maybe it’s not 100% inconceivable for the period, but it’s pretty damn unlikely. I get it, the filmmakers want to show that Bathsheba is independent, she’s a rebel, she’s not a typical woman of her time. Except Hardy’s prose is far more subtle than that. And therein lies my real issue with this movie…

Far From the Madding Crowd

Not far from the Wilsons Leather crowd.

It’s kind of a dumbed-down version of Thomas Hardy’s prose, making his complicated social critique into an easy romance for the masses. Fine, whatever, do what you need to do to make a buck, I guess. But it still makes me sad. I love how Bathsheba is supposed to be truly torn between three equally compelling options: her heart (Gabriel Oak, who accepts her as an equal and loves her as she is), her head (William Boldwood, who is the respectable, socially acceptable choice), and her sexual desire (Sergent Troy, who’s stokes her physical passion).  In the book and somewhat in the 1967 film version, Bathsheba struggles more between the three men and trying to integrate her various needs while also living within the confines of rural Victorian society. But Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba floats between the three men with only a smidge of dissatisfaction, and aside from one minor disagreement about the price of grain, nobody seems to care that she’s a woman running a farm by herself.

I was wary about Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, having only seen her before as the wet-wallpaper version of Daisy in The Great Gatsby (2013). And I still can’t tell if it’s the actress or the filmmaking — Sometimes, as with the riding scenes, this movie wants to make Bathsheba look strong and full of life. Other times, as in closeup conversations, she comes off as merely timid instead of troubled by her choices or contemplative about what to do.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Boldwood: Pick me!

That said, the men are mostly well cast. I especially loved Michael Sheen as Boldwood, he had such pathos and was terribly sympathetic. Even though I knew how it would end, I kind of wanted her to pick him. Sheen isn’t a typical historical heartthrob, but he has huge acting cred, especially in London theater. He’s done a number of big movies as well, and I most remember him as a brilliant David Frost in the stunning Frost / Nixon (2008).

Some of the best scenes in this movie were between Boldwood and Gabriel Oak, played by Matthias Schoenaerts. Not only are these two men vying for Bathsheba in different ways, but they’re the most interesting characters in the film. Belgian actor Schoenaerts as Gabriel does both the strong silent thing and his dialog does a lot to flesh out the story. He hasn’t been in a ton of historical costume movies, but he’s currently in A Little Chaos with Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Trusty Gabriel Oak.

The weakest part of the love quadrangle is Sergeant Troy, played by Tom Sturridge. Troy really needs to ooze sex appeal and be a real hot head. He’s supposed to be someone who can literally sweep Bathsheba off her feat and “tame” her. Sturridge is … pretty. He’s cute. Almost sweet, and then he turns into a jerk at the very end. Terence Stamp, who played Troy in the 1967 film, gave this role the sex and edge it needed. Poor Sturridge just doesn’t have the right act. Also, big chunks of Troy’s story are left out, including crucial scenes with Fanny Robbin (and with Boldwood, for that matter), and this reduces much of the dramatic tension around his role and motivations. That’s a bad move on the filmmaker’s part.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Sergeant Troy: What’s my motivation?

Far From the Madding Crowd

Fanny Robbin’s story gets short-shrift.

 

Far From the Madding Crowd Costumes

Luckily, we don’t see Bathsheba in pants again, and overall the costumes in Far From the Madding Crowd are quite nice. The film’s costume designer is Janet Patterson, who also designed for The Piano (1993), The Portrait of a Lady (1996), Oscar and Lucinda (1997), and Bright Star (2009), all of which she was nominated for the Best Costume Oscar. About Far From the Madding Crowd‘s costumes, Patterson says: “[The film’s director] Vinterberg wanted to avoid the crinolines and bustles associated with Victoriana, so he moved the story’s action to 1880, when fashion suddenly turned to a sleeker, more modern silhouette — one more befitting a woman who rides, climbs ladders, and jumps into the sheep dip.” Except the movie explicitly stated it’s set in 1870, not 1880. Get your stories straight, people.

Far From the Madding Crowd Far From the Madding Crowd Far From the Madding Crowd

So according to design, Bathsheba wears a variety of natural-form Victorian gowns in prints and plaids that feel appropriate to the rural setting. She has some lovely hats for going to town or church. There’s one ball scene with fancy gowns. Her most elaborate costumes are mostly ones that get the least screen time — a recent display at the Dorset County Museum in the U.K. has several beautiful gowns from the film that are seen very briefly. There’s the embroidered silk gown she wears upon returning with Troy to the farm after their wedding; the dark buttoned coat worn when Bathsheba runs away to marry Troy; and the spotted gown she wears at the wedding party at the farm (which is seen in the film for a longer scene).

Far From the Madding Crowd

Costumes on display at the Dorset County Museum. Photo by Jonathan North / Dorset County Museum © 2015.

Each of the three suitors has his own style: Boldwood wears serious, proper dark suits; Oak wears rough peasant garb; and Troy wears either his military uniform or a rather dandy-ish striped suit (there’s also one scene where Troy is in his striped suit AND Bathsheba is in a tailored striped suit, and whoa, it’s gorgeous eye-candy! sorry, couldn’t find screencaps though). The farm workers are all in simple, rather generic, homespun clothes.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Troy in his stripey suit.

Far From the Madding Crowd

The farm workers look a bit renfaire peasant-y here.

I wasn’t impressed by the hairstyling. Bathsheba almost always has her hair in essentially a long braid down her back, which doesn’t seem right for an adult woman of the period. She even unbraids her hair for her ‘first date’ with Troy — obvious symbolism there. The only times her hair is fully worn up in a historical style is when she goes to town or church or at the ball.

Far From the Madding Crowd

This hair, really?

Far From the Madding Crowd

Brief scene of Troy & Bathsheba returning from their wedding.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Bathsheba & Troy’s wedding party at the farm.

 

Overall, Far From the Madding Crowd is not bad, but it’s not the best Thomas Hardy film adaption I’ve seen. Could have waited till it was on cable or streaming (though it was nice to go out with my honey!).

 

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

16 Responses

  1. Northcountrygal

    I always think the Far from the Madding Crowd which gets Bathsheba best is the 1998 BBC series. In the 1967 version, Julie Christie just seems too “modern” and knowing about men – and well – that’s not what Bathsheba is! She has no experience with men and makes awful mistakes because of that. I also dislike the fact that this version has moved the time to the 1870s (or 1880s). Farmwork did change a lot in those 30 or 40 years – mechanization, the moving of workers to the cities etc. Why not leave the time when it was supposed to be? After all Hardy knew this world far better than any of us today can.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yep, changing the period just because someone doesn’t like the silhouette of the costumes changes so much more, if they’re going to be realistic. But this adaption (like too many others) is going for the easy romantic story, not really taking into account any of the social critique that’s in the source material. Oh well!

      Reply
  2. shannuoc

    The main reason I was happy at the end of the movie, when Oak and Bathsheba finally get together, was because of old Georgie, I found it so sad the dog would be abandoned a second time by his master… thinking of that, I realize it summarizes up well my feeling with the movie ^^. I found Oak and Boldwood interesting characters but too late, and I couldn’t get into appreciating Bathsheba neither understood why is it that every man wants to marry her at first sight. She’s not insufferable at all but I couldn’t imagine exactly what her personality was (the “rebel” part put aside).

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yep, there wasn’t a ton of character development for Bathsheba in this film. I keep wondering what is up with Carey Mulligan — is it her or the roles she chooses or some alchemy between them? She’s had important lead roles in some big films but been unimpressive IMO. She’s also in the film “Suffragette” coming out later this year, & I have high hopes bec. it also stars Helena Bonham Carter & Meryl Streep, so comparing the three will be veeeeeeery interesting!

      Reply
      • shannuoc

        I am far from being a specialist in drama acting but I felt like she lacked of body language. It was as if every emotion was stucked in her eyes and could’nt go beyond so that you guess that something’s happening but you can’t really feel or see it. I long to see “Suffragette” and get a better idea! :)

        Reply
  3. hopflower

    No; they are not Renaissance-y here. Aprons would be worn then on a farm for gleaning and to cover the main dress. It is appropriate.

    Reply
  4. Janette

    I have yet to watch this film. It slipped down quite a few places on my “to watch” list after reading this. I do agree with Northcountrygal however regarding the excellent 1998 version which i re-watched instead. Costumes are rather ordinary though but suited, (I think) to the setting. Hardy is one of my favourite writers though I find his later work overdoes the tragedy. I feel like shouting at him, “give the characters a chance”.

    Reply
  5. ladylavinia1932

    I think Carey Mulligan came off as a bit too modern in this film. I found this odd, considering that I actually enjoyed her portrayal of 1922 trophy wife Daisy Buchanan in “THE GREAT GATSBY”.

    I guess they needed to put that date in front of the film because the first thing we see is a woman (Carey Mulligan, playing the main character, Bathsheba Everdene) riding into the scene wearing a leather jacket and leather pants like some kind of steampunk chick. Yes, LEATHER and PANTS. Um, maybe it’s not 100% inconceivable for the period, but it’s pretty damn unlikely.

    What on earth was that about? Leather jacket worn by a woman in Victorian England? What was the costume designer thinking?

    I have yet to see the 1967 version. But I’m a real fan of the 1998 television version.

    Reply
  6. drush76

    I watched this new adaptation. I dislike the leather jacket. As it turned out, Bathsheba Everdene was not as “modern” as many kept hinting she would be. Which is fine with me. I thought the screenwriter and director could have revealed more on Bathsheba’s relationship with her workers and done more with the Fanny Robin character.

    Otherwise . . . I enjoyed it very much. Especially the Belgian actor who portrayed Gabriel Oak.

    Reply
  7. ladylavinia1932

    I watched this new adaptation. I dislike the leather jacket. As it turned out, Bathsheba Everdene was not as “modern” as many kept hinting she would be. Which is fine with me. I thought the screenwriter and director could have revealed more on Bathsheba’s relationship with her workers and done more with the Fanny Robin character.

    Otherwise . . . I enjoyed it very much. Especially the Belgian actor who portrayed Gabriel Oak.

    Reply
  8. chelseasolan

    I just watched this film and completely fell in love with Fanny’s wedding look. Not sure how period-appropriate it is (especially considering the long open hair?), but I still think it’s pretty dreamy!

    Reply
  9. ladylavinia1932

    I just saw the 1967 movie. Like the 2015 movie, I enjoyed it very much. But it had its problems. One of my biggest problems with the movie were the costumes. They looked as if they came from a costume warehouse in the heart of Hollywood. Nor did it help that the wedding outfit worn by Terence Stamp looked as if it was modern, not Victorian.

    Reply
  10. Nyanya

    I’m terribly late to the party, I know, but I’ve just discovered your site by searching for a tutorial for Miss Everdene’s braid (which I still haven’t found, sadly). I just wanted to mention that the book seems to imply her hair is actually often worn completely loose, at least at the beginning, before she inherits.

    For example: “and swinging back her hair, which was black in the shaded hollows of its mass;” in Chapter III

    or

    “the girl now dropped the cloak, and forth tumbled ropes of black hair over a red jacket” in Chapter II

    Reply

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