I watched the latest Far From the Madding Crowd last night. It’s a reflection of how awful regular television is when my late-night story fix comes from watching a movie I didn’t want to see. Despite the appeal of the leading actress, this was a case of no-movie-could-do-justice-to-the-book. The first film sent me to the book in 1967, and that was that—even Carey Mulligan wasn’t going to mess with my memories.
Something about the trailer caught my eye, however, and after all, I’m a grown-up, capable of walking away if I don’t like what I see. So I watched with the eyes of writer now, no longer a teenager but a student of storytelling. And I studied.
This Bathsheba Everdeen had never met her earlier, velvet-voiced incarnation. She was both more youthful and more independent, more adventurous and harder to take your eyes off. The selection of scenes, changing and addition of scenes to illustrate the story was also masterful for today’s audience. I asked myself a few times, “Did it really happen that way?” and finally said, “It could have. Perhaps it did. Shut up and enjoy it.”
You can see the places where the director tailored the script to reach a current audience: this version of the story is not what Hardy intended, but it is easy on the eyes. The themes of class, money, and sexual inequality are only lightly touched. It’s been rinsed of its meaning. The darkness of Bathsheba opening Fanny Robbin’s coffin; Troy’s sexual menace and Bathsheba’s determination to withstand it rather than admit error; and Boldwood’s madness all move quickly past without reflection. It’s as though someone in Hollywood said “Cut to the chase,” and it was on to the love story and a simple happy ending.
Still, an education in scriptwriting, and the acting is excellent. Better than TV!
Photo top: Alex Bailey. Carey Mulligan. Centre: Alex Bailey. Jessica Barden and Carey Mulligan. Bottom: Julie Christie.