Far From The Madding Crowd
Where better to be far from the madding crowd than the Vue in Camberley? Four days after its release and on a Bank Holiday Monday to boot this film only attracted 30 punters, including ourselves.
I feared the worst when in the opening sequences of this beautifully shot film we were told that Weatherbury around which the action centres was 200 miles from London. I know that modern-day travel has brought us closer together but even for the most rheumy of crows Puddletown in Dorset is and surely was some 125 miles from the centre of the metropolis. And why do we need to use London as the lodestone for Thomas Hardy’s Wessex when for its inhabitants London may just as well have been a far-off country?
Despite this false start the film was actually very good, nicely paced with good performances, particularly from Carey Mulligan playing the heroine Bathsheba Everdene and Martin Sheen as the tragic and deluded Mr Boldwood, although I always see Tony Blair when I see him act. Tom Sturridge as the dastardly Sergeant Troy was suitably dashing and Gabriel Oak, the fulcrum around whom the story revolves, was played in a rather understated way by Matthias Schoenarts. His Dorset accent was a bit strange but at least did not quite stray into Dick Van Dyke cockney territory.
In many ways the film reminded me of a greatest hits album – most (but not all) of the principal scenes were there without being hobbled by Thomas Hardy’s gushing descriptive prose – and as a consequence is done and dusted in just short of a couple of hours. The mix of costume drama, a good story, beautiful Dorset countryside and perfect length means that it is destined for many a rerun on our TV screens, particularly as BBC Films had a hand in its making.
And it taps into that vein that has made the TV series, Poldark, a hit for women of a certain age. We have shots of a horse rider silhouetted against the Dorset skyline, surely the cinematic cliché of 2015, and even an exhibition of scything to boot, albeit with a shirt on this time. The timing of this film’s release makes it the methadone to cure the Poldark junky’s cold turkey.
I have seen Bathsheba described as Hardy’s proto-feminist. As a male I have never seen her as that. Of course she is an independent woman – she vows never to be a man’s property – but makes a series of disastrous decisions which blight her fate – her spurning of Gabriel Oak, her capricious leading-on of the deluded Mr Boldwood and her falling for the swashbuckling superficiality of Sergeant Troy. She would have been spared a lot of trouble if Fanny knew her All Souls from her All Saints! Rather, I had always read the book as a paean to the stalwart qualities of English country yeomanry, personified by the faithful Gabriel Oak. That reading, of course, makes the choice of a Belgian to play the shepherd even more surprising.
But these are minor quibbles. I found the film engaging and entertaining and enjoyed the rattling pace of the story telling. If you have a spare couple of hours on your hands you could do worse than see it.