Sunday, May 03, 2015

"Far from the Madding Crowd": Victorian novel by Thomas Hardy, as shown here, warns us that looks aren't everything/

Far from the Madding Crowd” is a Victorian period love story based on the 1874 novel of that name by Thomas Hardy (no connection to the actor), directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Note the word, "Madding", not "maddening".  
I remember the author from having read “The Return of the Native” (1878) in my senior year of high school.  I sat next to a couple graduated from high school only shortly after me, and they remembered reading it, but not the novel set in Egdon Heath very well  Yet I remember other high school readings, including several Shakespeare plays, as well as “The Scarlet Letter”.  “The Return of the Native” seems to have only one film, from Hallmark, not yet on DVD, although I just put that in my Netflix Save Queue. 
The plot of “Madding Crowd” is rather straightforward.  A woman Bathsheba Everdene (Hardy liked exotic names for female characters), played by Carrey Mulligan, has inherited a farm, and is courted by three different men.  Her choices track to profound moral implications, even if we learned in high school about Hardy’s idea of “fate” and his and what it took to be commercial successful as a novelist.
The first suitor is neighboring farmer Gabriel Oak (Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts), who initially proposes to her.  She resists him because he seems judgmental.  An early opening sequence how Oak loses his own flock of sheep when a fence breaks and the sheep stampede, falling off a cliff.  His loyal dog, almost a character and person himself, wakens him at night and leads him to the catastrophe. He goes to work on her farm, and gets run off for being critical, and then she needs him again.
The second suitor is an Army sergeant, Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), who woos her with his scarlet uniform and fencing maneuvers.  They marry, and she is clearly more physically attracted to him (than to Gabriel), partly over physical trappings – a cuter face, and yet more chest hair.  Looks here don’t always imply virtue, as he turns out to be reckless, incurring gambling debts.  Like a coward (despite his military bearing), he runs off and tries to drown himself.
Then there is the accomplished wealthy bachelor Tom Boldwood (Michael Sheen), middle-aged, who offers to marry her and pay off her late husband’s debts, and leave her alone physically.  He seems to need a wife for social purposes, and appears to be a closeted homosexual living in Victorian society.  But he has a certain earnest candor and simplicity, which reminds one of Alan Turing (“The Imitation Game”).  At a Christmas party, Troy returns “from the dead”, creating the tragic confrontation for the denouement of the novel.
It’s clear that of the three men, two had outstanding moral integrity and character, and she had been attracted to the man who did not.  (As for looks, Schoenaerts "isn't bad", but the film tones him down.) 
The official site is here  (Fox Searchlight).  The tag line is, “from now on, you have a mistress, not a master”.
I saw the film before a large crowd Saturday afternoon at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield,  VA.  There was a large street fair nearby.

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