“Far From The Madding Crowd”

 

The Good News is that the movie follows the plot of the classic novel very closely.  Thomas Hardy wrote the book in 1874, at a time when England was enjoying the last generation of its long and prosperous reign as a world economic superpower.  The two World Wars of the early 20th century would prove that the idyllic time imagined by Mr. Hardy in the bountiful English countryside was, indeed, an illusion of an earlier era.

But in the 1870’s, at least, the English were fascinated with Hardy’s tale of Bathsheba Everdene, a pretty young lass who enjoys a series of romances.  (Yes, the name is reminiscent of Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of “The Hunger Games” trilogy…or vice versa.)  What’s strange for Christians is to hear Bathsheba’s overdub in the very first scene, wondering how her (now-deceased) parents ever came up with such a strange name, and she says she never found out.  (Uh, hello, anybody there ever heard of the Bible?)  But maybe the biblical inference isn’t all that accidental.  The Bathsheba of scripture was evidently a woman of great beauty; enough to move kings to do foolishly impulsive things just to have her, but somehow not only her love life, but her life itself, was dependent on the whims of jealous men.

Carrie Mulligan is definitely pretty enough to convince us viewers that her beauty will move men to do foolishly impulsive things.  First she meets Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), the next-door landowner who bluntly proposes to her without so much as a curtsy toward romance.  Bathsheba, though not a woman of means at this point, declines his impetuous offer because she values too much her independence.  Then both of their lives are changed by circumstance:  he loses his sheep farm, but she inherits her Uncle’s estate, and suddenly he’s working for her as a laborer, which makes their friendship a little awkward, at best.  But he hangs around because he’s still interested in making sure she’s OK, and she, meanwhile, relishes being the woman in charge of her own large working farm. 

But soon she is courted by a neighboring farmer, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen).  The problem is that economically, it would make sense to combine their adjacent plantations, and he’s an awfully nice guy, but there just isn’t any spark there for her.  Wanting to keep her options open, she shamelessly leads him on, apparently hoping something more interesting will come along.  Enter Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a swashbuckling soldier with just enough dash and verve to stir up a temporary passion. He’s finally the one who succeeds in seducing her to marry him, but she quickly discovers that he is a rogue, a gambler, and a bully, and doesn’t really care for her, anyway.  Well, Bathsheba isn’t the first pretty girl to reject the suitable, safe suitors and fall for the bad boy instead:  with wearying unintended consequences, and the faintly tragic air of self-imposed unhappiness. 

Director Thomas Vinterberg goes for the whole late-Victorian era formality of dress and decorum, and intersperses the noble air with lovely nature shots, and vistas of peaceful farmland.  It’s all about as sublime as a cup of lukewarm afternoon tea with crumpets.  And about as exciting.

 

Questions For Discussion:

1)      When have you rejected the safe, mature choice for the edgy, risky one?  How did that work out for you?

2)      How does the biblical Bathsheba’s life mirror that of Bathsheba Everdene?

Extra Credit:  How does the life of Bathsheba Everdene mirror that of Katniss Everdeen?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman, Texas