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Cinema in Focus: ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’

3 Stars — Wholesome

Far from the Madding Crowd, a classic tale written in 1874 by Thomas Hardy, is beautifully portrayed with a new set of fresh faces.

Set in Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer who she has known since her youth and is 6 years older than she; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a reckless, but dashing, military sergeant her own age; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and shy bachelor 14 years her senior.

If the title sounds familiar, it is because Far from the Madding Crowd starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp and Peter Finch was nominated for an Oscar in 1967 and won the National Board of Review’s award for Best Picture that year. Author Hardy took the title from Thomas Gray’s poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751)." “Madding” means “frenzied” here.

Bathsheba Everdene, or Miss Everdene as she likes to be addressed, inherits a great deal of property at a young age and finds herself having to compete in a Victorian era where women are not expected to be equal with men in business. She is immensely attractive to suitors who would like to take over the management of her property and subjugate her to the role of a wife. However, she is headstrong and holds her own in a world of men. Unfortunately, she is also influenced by her station in life and the one man that she trusts and loves is a shepherd, a position below hers in the social order of the day.

Throughout the story, her longtime trust and affection for Gabriel Oak is entangled in her life when she hired him to watch over the affairs of her sheep and farming operations. Oak protects her from the advances of suitors, even though she fights him every step of the way.

William Boldwood, her prosperous older neighbor, longs to marry her, but she is not in love with him and continues to decline his advances. In a moment of passion she agrees to marry the handsome Frank Troy, who dazzles her with his handsome uniform and charming demeanor, but later comes to realize that he cares little for her and is only after position, money and power.

Without revealing the entanglements that ensue, the romantic undertones that have been built over the years between Miss. Everdene and Mr. Oak cannot be denied, and like any good English novel, all’s well that ends well.

What makes these Victorian tales attractive beyond their romantic gloss, is the fact that the virtues of Victorian England are beautifully portrayed. Virtue is protected, spiritual values are shown to produce a depth of character, and the people involved have their faults without giving into moral failure. In that sense, this is more Pride and Prejudice than Downton Abbey.

Filled with great visuals of 19th century England, this a romantic tale satisfies on many levels. It is a good date night film, but it is also a good portrayal of moral and ethical choices and possible consequences to share with your family.

Discussion

» The leveling of society from the strata of Victoria England only changes the way people rank themselves today. How do you see the community in which you live being stratified? By economics, race, creed or some other distinction?

» When we make a decision out of passion, we often regret it, yet not always. How have your decisions made in passion effected your life?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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