Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was a Victorian novelist of note, influenced especially by Dickens and George Eliot (i.e. Mary Ann Evans– see Silas Marner), in terms of his realism in the narrative, and by Wordsworth in terms of his romanticism. Of his famous novels (The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’urbervilles, Far from the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure) in my book the best and most romantic is indeed Far from the Madding Crowd. Yes, it is a Victorian period piece, and indeed it plays to Hardy’s strengths, namely the theme of the declining rural situations in England. Hardy focused on the south central and south Western portions of England (Devon, Dorset, etc.), and this production of the book is beautifully filmed in the region.
The basic story line is simple enough— Ms. Bathsheba Everdeen (for whom Ms. K. Everdeen [aka Jennifer from Louisville] is named no doubt) is a fiercely independent and spirited woman, who inherits a farm from her uncle. Suddenly, she finds herself being courted by three very different men, one a landed gentry man who lives on the adjacent farm, one a swashbuckling soldier and ne’er-do-well, and one a rustic shepherd and farmer named Gabriel, who is beneath the ‘station’ of Ms. Everdeen. Who will win her hand? Will she choose wisely, or not? This is the basic story line and in the movie it takes the full two hours for the tale to unwind and be resolved. I shall not spoil the plot for you, but you will enjoy its twists and turned.
As a film this is an excellent adaptation of the novel, and the acting, plotting, cinematography are all excellent. Carey Mulligan fully deserves a Best Actress nomination for this performance. I would add as well that the film depicts accurately the difficulties of women in the Victorian age, especially unmarried ones, who were expected to be seen and not heard, domestic and not business women, and so on. Bathsheba defies a variety of conventions successfully in this film. But she is also a woman who, while very sure of her will, is very unsure of her heart and about matters of the heart. She is proud, and sometimes her pride gets in the way of good judgment.
I personally loved this movie, and wish there were more like it. If you compare and contrast Mulligan and Knightley in such period pieces featuring women, Mulligan is clearly superior as an actress. This is a movie worth renting, and even purchasing when it comes out on DVD, for it is satisfying on many levels, as a lens into Victorian rural life, as a commentary on women and their roles in Victorian society, as an enjoyable visit to Dorset and its beautiful pastoral scenes and rural life. Don’t miss this one on the second go around, for sadly it hardly appeared in theaters in towns and cities of less than a half million people.