When an independent young woman is pursued by three men, will she eventually wind up picking one of them or will she remain adamant and stay single?
Bathsheba (Mulligan) is a beautiful young single woman trying to make her way in life as a farmer in 1870 England. She manages to catch the eye of Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a neighboring farmer, who soon proposes to her; Bathsheba declines, noting that she is in no need of a husband as that would shackle her. Following some misfortune, Oak loses his farm to the bank and must leave; around this time, Bathsheba inherits an expansive family farm when her uncle passes away. Coincidentally, Oak suddenly appears looking for work and accepts a job working for Bathsheba on the farm.
Nearby is William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), an older man who has experienced great success as both a farmer and businessman, tempered by unlucky romantic aspirations. In visits, he appears to show modest interest if not curiosity about Bathsheba, a rare young single woman trying to make a go of farming on her own. During a playful moment, she sends a missive to Boldwood which suggests she has romantic intentions. Confronting her about this, he proposes, but is greatly embarrassed when rebuffed; trying to remain hopeful, Bathsheba agrees to at least think about Boldwood’s offer.
Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) happens to meet Bathsheba during this period; a dashing young soldier, he mistakenly believes he was jilted at the altar by Fanny (Juno Temple) – as a result, he shows a definite interest in a now-flattered Bathsheba. Impressed by Troy’s reputation of a great education which portends a successful future, she accepts his proposal of marriage, much to the dismay of both Oak and Boldwood. When Troy suddenly turns up missing, Bathsheba’s farm is in danger due to his excessive gambling debts. Believing Troy dead, Bathsheba now agrees to finally marry Boldwood – but when Oak decides he’s going to journey to America, will she let him go or can she convince him to stay by professing her love?
If a romantic soap opera like period piece is what you want, “Far From The Madding Crowd” might just be right up your alley. While there have been a good number of successful movies about strong independent women released in the last few years, this remake of “Far From The Madding Crowd” may not be among the best of them. Another take on the Thomas Hardy novel, where this one goes awry may be partly due to the performance of Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba. The portrayal comes across as rather smug and decidedly surly; although Bathsheba is a single woman trying to be a farmer in the 19th century, she doesn’t come across as being terribly sympathetic.
The story constantly appears in search of a hero or heroine for whom to root. Schoenaerts’ Oak is perhaps the most sympathetic character, but it’s not his story, it’s Bathsheba’s; Sheen’s Boldwood is arguably less sympathetic because he comes across as a somewhat weaker person – but again, it’s not about him. So it appears as though the question becomes whether or not Bathsheba is heroic simply because her character is an underdog, regardless of her behavior and treatment of others. While some might argue that because of her position she needed to create a tough exterior, it doesn’t excuse certain other behavior – for example, intentionally misleading Boldwood to believe she had romantic interests in him.
In adapting the Hardy novel, the movie fails to make Bathsheba heroic, although she is clearly the protagonist. For one thing, the manner in which she turns away potential suitors does little to allow the audience to see a sensitive, feeling human being exists there. Also, the one true villain in the film turns out to be Troy and she does not defeat him through her own means; instead, he is dealt with improbably by Boldwood in an almost deus ex machina manner. Ultimately, this reboot of “Far From The Madding Crowd” is rather unsatisfying, although lovers of bodice-ripper type yarns might disagree.