For this entry I thought I would write about a story which has really captured my imagination recently; Far from the Madding Crowd. Until the film was released this summer, the title was only something I had heard of in passing. It was a stuffy book my mother gave me, which I discarded (foolishly) without giving it much thought. However, I was enticed by the trailer well before the title was revealed and I nudged one of my friends with a suggestive elbow-fortunately, she also liked the idea of seeing it too. I have just this week finished the book.
I suppose film adaptations can be a tricky business; I am often wary of seeing films of my favourite books in case they do not live up to what I have forged inside my head. Especially as it is often likely that due to time constraints it is not possible for a film to be as detailed as the book, so some key parts might be lost. For example, there is a lot of rich content in The Time Traveller’s Wife which is not included in the film. This allows them to focus solely on the love story but other issues such as Clare’s relationship with her mother for example is not explored, which is a shame-I still absolutely adore the film though!
Is it proper to read a book before seeing the film version or is the other way around equally valid? Can one appreciate both separately or only as references to each other? Is it an abomination that a book such as Far from the Madding Crowd should be made for the big screen in the first place? All of these questions are interesting. In this case I feel that the film, as stunning and emotive as it is, serves as a wonderful introduction to such an evocative and well written text, which a wide audience may not necessarily feel is accessible to them. Often a film can serve to enhance the enjoyment of a book by having already provided the reader with a rough idea of the characters, the landscapes and the basics of the plot.
Far from the Madding Crowd was published in 1877 but is ahead of its time in many ways. In particular, the book’s leading female character, Bathsheba Everdene (we know another fictional heroine by that name, don’t we?) is bold, independent and largely unapologetic. She is described as “too wild” by her aunt.
This is what drew me to her instantly; she is a woman who embodies many feminist ideals, even declaring “I hate to be thought men’s property…” and “it is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.” This is also demonstrated in the way she is not impressed by her suitors’ proposals. Both Gabriel and Boldwood offer her material things, things they believe she wants, like clothes or a piano. But she already possesses these items, having earned or inherited them and therefore cannot be bought that way. She is no ordinary woman, she is deep thinking and honest and these things are simply not enough for her to sacrifice her freedom and I find that refreshing.
But this isn’t what makes her a hero in my eyes. Rather, it is her flaws, her errors and conflicting emotions which makes her human, likeable, relatable. She is not perfect and yet she soldiers on through all her troubles and attempts to take responsibility for her mistakes (she doesn’t always succeed). It is wonderful for a woman such as myself to feel I have things in common with a character who is over 100 years old. Carey Mulligan is also an actor I hugely respect, and who is subject of another film/book I adore, Never Let Me Go. I find her performance as Bathsheba genuine, subtle and almost effortless. Her gowns are also absolutely mesmerising.
Her three love interests are not bad either! Besides of which, I adore meaningful, tragic love stories (Norwegian Wood and Twilight immediately spring to mind). Gabriel Oak was my favourite from the start though, in the film and in the book.
In the book he is described this way:
“In his face one might notice that many of the hues and curves of youth had tarried on to manhood: there even remained in his remoter crannies some relics of the boy.”
This, in particular struck a chord with me as it reminded me so much of my lead character from Latest Mistake, Blane. Also, as the book and film progress we learn that Gabriel sees Bathsheba for what she really is, flaws and all, and not what benefit she can bring or what fantasy she might fulfil, as Troy and Boldwood do.
He is loyal and steadfast but calls her bluff several times, even convincing her to join the men in the sheep dip. This is one of my favourite scenes in both the book and the film as Bathsheba is impulsive and empowered and equal to the men. Gabriel challenges her in a way that Troy and Boldwood do not. He encourages her and teaches her in a way which makes them friends and equals, despite their different statuses. In this way their connection has much more depth.
Seasons and the countryside landscape are also another reason why I love the book and the film. In the book, the years roll by with many wonderful descriptions of changing seasons. The film does not disappoint on this matter. Filmed on location in Dorset, it offers a rich, varied and breathtaking landscape to behold. As a woman raised in London, I have longed for the countryside for most of my life, for the freedom and the solitude.
The framing of the landscapes, the colours and the light more than adequately portrays the vastness of the local surroundings, helping to add another layer, almost add another character to the story. It is as beautiful as it is treacherous, as we discover learning of the fate of the sheep on Bathsheba’s farm.
I’ve found this tale to be enlightening and exciting and recommend both the film and the book to all. Now I just have to decide which book to read next!
Film images courtesy of the DVD Far from the Madding Crowd, available to buy now.