I had the wonderful opportunity to screen Thomas Vinterberg’s recreation of Thomas Hardy’s first major literary success, Far From the Madding Crowd, starring the beautiful Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, and Juno Temple.
What I love about this story is sort of the irony of the unusual female protagonist, and even more so that Bathsheba was a character written by a man. What a rarity in that time to have a woman who was such an independent spirit, driven and determined to be free of societal confines, yet the reigning monarch of that era was none other than one of the most influential British monarchs in history and longest reigning Queen (soon to be out done by Elizabeth II)—Queen Victoria. So, it’s not unfathomable in that time that someone could come up with such a fictional female character; yet, that kind of woman was still an oddity.
It’s funny, because despite over a century of time between the publication of the novel and today, l’ve noticed something interesting that hasn’t changed much over the course of the years. Women who grow up knowing independence, or even those who come to find it later, sometimes have a hard time letting go of it, or don’t know how to retain their free spirit without shutting out men from their lives. For Bathsheba, it was real matter of becoming a man’s property once she married. When Gabriel and Mr. Boldwood first proposed to her, both tried to offer her material things, thinking that providing a house for her and filling it with “things” and telling her she’d never have to work would make her feel safe and loved. Genuine as their intentions were, it’s a laughable notion. The only woman who is interested by being showered with material items is a dull one. This isn’t to say a woman shouldn’t have material items, but to think that that’s all she needs to keep herself entertained and secure in the home is a naïve notion and an outdated one. I think that even if you filled a castle with all the material items a woman wanted in order to keep her satisfied at home with no responsibility for herself, no freedom of identity for herself, then all you’ll succeed in doing is bore her. So to ensure she didn’t become someone’s property, nor lose her inclination for maintaining her independence and identity, she refused her suitors…until she foolishly fell for the soldier in red.
Similar to Bathsheba’s determination to maintain her independence, I think many of us do the same today. Nowadays, we try to live up to the notion of “I don’t need a man to support me!” Modernly, I think that notion is a bit overdramatic and irrelevant. Of course, back in the Victorian era, unless you were Queen Victoria, or lucky like Bathsheba and inherited property to be the master of your own land and life, women depended on men and were mere economic pawns.
Modernly, as I was saying, it’s a bit overdramatic and irrelevant, because men and women need each other. How we need each other, should not have to be financial nowadays though, but emotional, biological, even as mental challenges for one another. Still, it’s the same idea of “I’m a free woman and I need to do everything to remain free.” Sometimes we go so far to try to preserve our independence and identity, that we strip men of their masculinity, which is unfair. Men should feel free to be “masculine” for their women, and they should also feel free to be vulnerable. The idea that men should be a certain way and women another is simply ridicululous.
I remember a number of years ago, my aunt telling me that the women in our family tend to be “very independent—too independent at times.” I wonder if anyone has ever told a man he is “too independent.”
In any case, the film is beautiful. Schoenaerts incandescently brings the classic story to life. Carey’s performance perfectly captures the simultaneous sweet force of nature and foolishness that is Bathsheba. Matthias reminds me of Ryan Gosling in The Notebook—so there’s a draw for the ladies!
It only has a limited release in the United States, so catch it if you can!
BIG LOVE & HUGS