9 May 2015

Re-imagining Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd

This week I went to see the latest version of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd and it started me thinking about bringing classic novels to the big screen.  A long time Thomas Hardy fan (see Visiting Thomas Hardy’s house at Max Gate ) anyone who didn’t know this is based on his novel could be forgiven for not realising, as his credit is so small and fleeting.

Set in the rural Dorset of Victorian England and starring the perfectly cast Carey Mulligan as the independent  Bathsheba Everdene, the story is a classic love triangle.  Three very different men, Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a swaggering red-coated Sergeant, and (in a wonderfully understated performance from Martin Sheen) William Boldwood, Bathsheba’s bachelor neighbour, all compete for Bathsheba’s affection.

Director Thomas Vinterberg’s re-imagining  is the fourth time this novel became a film, the first being exactly a hundred years ago in 1915.

Far From the Madding Crowd is Thomas Hardy's fourth novel, written in 1874, and his first real success. Interestingly, Hardy first published it anonymously as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, the Victorian equivalent of ‘Wattpad’.  

Hardy took inspiration from the people and landscape of Dorset, although the name of Bathsheba is from the Bible (she was the mother of Solomon who was seduced by King David - a story echoed in the novel).

Hardy took his title from Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:

         Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
         Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
         Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
         They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

So what did I think of the latest version?  Loved it. It helps that the screenwriter, David Nicholls, is also a best-selling novelist, who also adapted Tess of the d'Urbervilles for the lavish BBC production.  As well as being able to bring a writer’s insight to retelling Hardy’s compelling story, he brings a modern sensitivity to the way it addresses female independence.  In an interview with The Telegraph, Nicholls says he tried to remain true to Hardy. “I will change things if they seem to suit the medium better but apart from that I’m just trying to dig out what I love about it and be faithful to that.”

This is as good an example as any of how classic novels can be brought into the twenty-first century. The 2015 version has made me return to the Hardy’s original, although I doubt I’ll ever be able to picture Bathsheba Everdene without remembering Carey Mulligan racing her horse across the Dorset countryside.

(Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons)

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