Far from the Madding Crowd Review
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Period dramas are generally known (and adored) for their beautiful settings, their courtly characters, and their sometimes overstated romance and melodrama. And while all of that is certainly the case for Far from the Madding Crowd, its main character’s choices often detract from its charms.

Based on the novel by Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd stars Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, a headstrong young woman who’s helping out on her aunt’s farm when she first meets Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), the sheep farmer next door. Mr. Oak is awkwardly sweet, but when he proposes, she turns him down, determined not to have a husband.

In a twist of fate, Miss Everdene soon finds that she’s inherited her family’s estate, while Mr. Oak loses his farm, only to end up working for the woman who broke his heart. And he quietly watches as she attracts two new suitors: her middle-aged neighbor, Mr. Baldwood (Michael Sheen), and handsome but reckless soldier Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge).

Far from the Madding Crowd is the story of one young woman’s quest to be strong and independent—only to make some horrible decisions along the way. In the beginning, Bathsheba is an admirable character. She seems young and naive yet resolute, determined to make her own way in life—no matter whose heart she’ll have to break in the process. As she takes over her family’s farm, she shows even more strength, choosing to be a tough but caring—and completely hands-on—mistress. But that’s when things begin to fall apart.

In a way, Bathsheba Everdene is like Victorian England’s answer to Scarlett O’Hara. She’s confident and strong-minded, unwilling to let anything (or anyone) stand in the way of what she wants. In the process, she plays with men’s feelings and uses them as needed—whether it’s for stability or support. But, unlike her Civil War counterpart, she doesn’t do so with much verve. She’s either altogether oblivious or quietly manipulative—neither of which is an especially attractive (or admirable) trait. And what starts out as a strong female lead soon seems to crumble into a lost young woman whose weakness and bad choices lead to even more bad choices. And though the character’s flaws are written into her story, Mulligan’s performance doesn’t help to keep the strong young woman from the beginning of the story from nearly fading away in the end.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of other things to enjoy in this lush period drama. The men (or at least two of them) are romantic and sincere—not to mention wonderfully cast. And the rural setting and period details are striking. But witnessing the main character’s increasingly ill-advised actions can make for a frustrating experience.

Though it certainly has its charms, Far from the Madding Crowd falls short of its promise to be a moving love story with a strong female lead. Instead, it’s a beautiful film with a main character who might remind you a bit too much of your troubled college roommate.

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