[Films Review] Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) and (1967)

Far From The Madding Crowd poster

Title: Far From the Madding Crowd
Year: 2015
Country: UK, USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Screenplay: David Nicholls
based on Thomas Hardy’s novel
Music: Craig Armstrong
Cinematography: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Carey Mulligan
Matthias Schoenaerts
Michael Sheen
Tom Sturridge
Juno Temple
Jessica Barden
Bradley Hall
Rating: 6.4/10

Title: Far From the Madding Crowd
Year: 1967
Country: UK
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Romance, History
Director: John Schlesinger
Screenplay: Federic Raphael
based on Thomas Hardy’s novel
Music: Richard Rodney Bennett
Cinematography: Nicolas Roeg
Julie Christie
Terence Stamp
Peter Finch
Alan Bates
Prunella Ransome
Fiona Walker
Freddie Jones
Rating: 7.3/10

A double-bill of two film adaptations of Thomas Hardy’s novel, about a Victorian liberated and strong-willed girl named Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan/Christie), who is an orphan but fortuitously inherits a farm from her late uncle, but in due course, her romantic entanglements with three very different men, the honest and devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts/Bates), the wealthy, middle age bachelor William Boldwood (Sheen/Finch) and a hot-headed sergeant Frank Troy (Sturridge/Stamp), will teach her a hard lesson with a shocking third act.

If you believe the consequence is more important than the process, the entire story could have finished within ten minutes, say, if Bathsheba would accept Mr. Oak’s marriage proposal in the first place and they would live happily ever after (even the horrible sheep accident might have been avoided, not to mention saving Mr. Boldwood and Sergeant Troy from their respective miseries). But, we are all at the mercy of our fate, like Bathsheba, we must experience personally, all the predestined ups-and-downs, to be smart enough to become the master of our own fate, that’s why the process usually matters more significantly.

Are Bathsheba and Mr. Oak really made for each other? Interestingly this is a main difference between these two versions in regarding to who is the main male protagonist in the films. In 1967 version, Stamp is first-billed together with Christie, with Finch tails and Bates is given an “and” emphasis, Obviously Stamp’s Troy has more scenes and is the focus point ever since his entry into Bathsheba’s world, his relationships with both her and Fanny (Ransome) are granted with more details and finesse, the famous sword courtship scenes are designed with dazzlingly glow, for a Victorian girl, a young soldier with a mastery of sword is deadly seductive. Plus there is an entire circus show for Troy to grandstand which can not be found in the newest adaptation. Moreover, the most convincing proof is the ending, director Schlesinger’s camera angle tacitly betrays his intention, however flawed Troy is as a person, he is the one who Bathsheba’s heart falls for, period. But in 2015 version, Troy is retreated to a second fiddler, which turns out to be a corrective move, since Tom Sturridge’s pouting pretentiousness is quite unpleasant to behold, Schoenaerts’ Mr. Oak is the one being omnipresent besides Bathsheba, giving his candid advices, as her protector and confidant, hoping for one day, his love will be reciprocated, which is quite contrary to Christie’s version, where she affirmatively admit that he is not good enough for her, the class barrier is the main concern.

Thus, by comparison, the new version tends to be an ode to a romantic platitude – true love is actually just around the corner all the time (for Bathsheba), and as long as you are patient enough, the triumph from being a back-up to the chosen one will eventually bestowed to you (to Mr. Oak); meantime the 1967 version sparks off more profound rumination on what is love, essentially, we will come to terms with the fact that marriage and love are never the same thing in most cases, only why we must learn the lesson in such a hard way? That is the true mystery of human beings.

Both pictures are stunning to watch, the picturesque cinematography greatly enhances the magnificence of their rural sceneries and so are the lyrical scores. The 1967 version has more of an epic scope with its 170 minutes length and a Panavision scale, DP Nicolas Roeg also has more leeway to put his camera towards the rustic activities at that time, ethnologically speaking, more well-grounded to the source novel. However Vinterberg’s more subdued shades are full of its own exquisite verve.

Performance-wise, Julie Christie, refreshingly reunites with Schlesinger after her Oscar-harvest turn in DARLING (1965), continues unfolding her gorgeous beauty (although, not so much fits the Victorian style) and acts to be unaffectedly liberal-minded and business-smart, even her wantonness can get a free pass for being whimsical and unwitting. As for Mulligan, she is at best when imbuing a more poised dignity to Bathsheba’s freedom-seeking independence and unbridled desire, and her lilting rendition of LET NO MAN STEAL YOUR THYME is a big bonus.

Two Mr. Oak, Schoenaerts is the current “it” actor destined to stardom with many promising projects under his belt, here, he emits an enchanting vibe of sexiness, enveloped by loyalty, kindness, thoughtfulness and intrepidity, on top of that he is an exotic hunk, a really catnip aiming to woo the movie’s particular demography. Alan Bates, downplays his square-faced handsomeness, bespeaks another fashion of good-looks in a different era; and Terence Stamp, who would seduce an entire Italy family one year later in Pasolini’s TEOREMA (1968), is less refined here, more greasy than heart-throbbing, still, he is much an eye-candy than Tom Sturridge and his scene-stealing moustache.

Then what about William Boldwood, the most sympathetic character one supposes among the four, his tragedy is that he has kept his heart closed too long, once his passion is rekindled (by such a trivial thing like a valentine card), he will not take no as the answer and has the capital to wait for her, he chooses marriage over love, which sadly can never go with Bathsheba’s beliefs. In 1967 version, we witness the final capitulation of Bathsheba under the pressure of William, which provides a more logical reason for his passion-of-crime, as long as Troy is in the picture, he will never get her. Peter Finch, is my pick of all the performers in these two films, his longing eyes are so telling that we can see desire and pain clotted in his unquenchable obsession, while Sheen is conspicuously less emphatic to reach that effect, not to mention Finch is too handsome for him to fill in his shoes.

P.S. 2015 version is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, one of the Danish founding members of Dogme95 movement, so it is quite a surprise to find out he has progressed into a director-for-hire in this British period drama, perhaps it is time to visit his filmography, notably THE HUNT (2012), which can be a hard nut to crack.

Far From The Madding Crowd 2015

Far From The Madding Crowd 1967

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