Will It Make a Good Film: Far from the Madding Crowd
Expected Release Date: May 1, 2015
Director: Thomas Vinterburg
Based on: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, published 1874
Overview: Farmer Gabriel Oak spies newcomer Bathsheba Everdene during a moment of vanity (admiring herself in a mirror) when she first rides into town, but nonetheless pays the twopence she needs to pass the turnpike. He later becomes her admirer when he sees her, oblivious to his presence, recline on horseback to ride beneath some low boughs. An independent young woman, Bathsheba spurns Gabriel’s advances, but their paths cross again and again over the course of many years and many tragedies, which teach them each the value of the other.
Working for it: Yet another 19th-century novel centered on a woman’s choice of husband, Far from the Madding Crowd sets itself apart with its humor, tragedy, scandal, and perspective — that of a poor shepherd. These elements make for a good story that audiences outside of the Jane Austen demographic should enjoy (though Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen seem to have shared the same dry wit). There are some fantastic dialogues in this book, but it also contains some scenes that would translate well to the screen due to the intensity of their action. Gabriel’s flock of sheep running over a cliff due to an inexperienced young dog, for instance, or the fire at Bathsheba’s farm. Lastly, this film stars Carey Mulligan, a talented yet underrated young actor, who has nonetheless proven herself capable of a role such as this (see Bleak House or The Great Gatsby). I believe she can strike just the right balance of intelligence and naivete that Bathsheba Everdene requires.
Working against it: The dialect in Far from the Madding Crowd is notoriously difficult to read, but it is important in that it signals that the speakers are poor—and the fact that simple country folk do so much speaking in this story is unusual and noteworthy. It’s something that, I feel, ought to be preserved in a movie version, yet doing so will be tricky. I would want to see the dialect maintained, but at the same time holding too true to Hardy’s original dialogue could alienate viewers who don’t have the patience to translate.
Wild card: The director. Thomas Vinterberg gained a reputation as the co-founder of the Dogme-95 movement with Lars von Trier, an aesthetic which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to period drama. Though he and von Trier have since abandoned the style, he has yet to find a strong directorial voice. The fact that this is a BBC film is a point in his favor and indicates that he’ll probably do a solid job, but it is difficult to predict. If this were in the hands of Joe Wright, I would say it would definitely make a profit (following his success with Pride and Prejudice and Atonement), but with so much relying on the balance between modern interpretation and faith to the original, the director (and writer, too) could make or break this one.
Prediction: I believe this will be a good film — I expect to enjoy it, and I plan to see it. I don’t expect it to be a box office success, however, and I fear it will sink into obscurity along with most period dramas based on novels.