Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Tale of Three Suitors: Far from the Maddening Crowd

To start the New Year's New blog Posts, I wanted to give a Timeless Lovers's salute to a movie, and an old classic book I just discovered. This past weekend I watched an incredible romance movie, one that is also a 'costume drama' that delighted both myself and my spouse. It was in theaters May of 2014, and is now out in DVD.

We didn't feel the story was too long or too slow. We didn't want it to end. In comparison, we watched the recent incarnation of Madame Bovary, and were so bored we turned it off nearly at the halfway point, so that just goes to show that every remake of a classic movie doesn't succeed.

Far from the Maddening Crowd is a novel written by Thomas Hardy and published in 1874. The story is set in Victorian England, a contemporary novel at the time it was written. It takes place in the lovely English countryside of Dorset.

Our heroine, Miss Bathsheba Everdene (yes, Bathsheba!) lives with her aunt and works the farm.
She is a headstrong, independent woman who really isn't searching for a husband. She is made an offer of marriage by a neighboring farmer, a young, virile and handsome Gabriel Oak. Funny thing about the last name, as he ends up being as solid and reliable as an oak tree in the course the story.

She turns him down, because, well, she doesn't love him.
And she doesn't wish to be a farmer's wife.

Mr Gabriel Oak, a handsome and reliable man
Gabriel Oak's fortunes turn bleak in one night. He's been training a sheepdog named George who is not as well behaved as a dog should be that has the singular responsibility of herding and guarding sheep. As Gabriel awakens in the night after hearing a noise, he finds the sheep pen open and the sheep are gone. His older dog, retired, leads him up to the cliffs where he discovers the younger dog has herded his entire flock off the cliffs.

He's ruined, and must leave the farm he's been renting and hoping to buy after the sheep shearing.

Meanwhile, after turning Mr. Oak's proposal down,  plucky Bathsheba gets news of an inheritance. Her uncle has left her his farm in his will. She's thrilled, and packs right away to go claim her inheritance.

When she arrives at the farm, she is presented with a terrible situation. A fire nearly destroyed the barn, as a cart piled with hay near the edifice caught fire. A stranger happened upon the farm looking for shelter and work the night before her arrival, and he rallied to help the farm hands extinguish the fire. This bold stranger heroically climbs the roof of the barn to stamp out the flames on several of the shingles. Guess who this brave man turns out to be . . . Gabriel Oak.

Homeless and penniless, he's been wandering the countryside looking for work. In the movie version, Bathsheba arrives the morning after the fire and meets her rejected suitor. Since he helped save her barn, she hires him on as the master of the sheep.

But now, she's his boss, so there is tension between them.

Mr. Boltwood, an older, mature suitor who is kind
Along comes the second suitor, a neighboring landowner, Mr. Boltwood (played wonderfully by Michael Sheen). He is a mature man, a shy, introverted, but he is much more cultured and prosperous than our heroine. At first meeting, he snubs his nose at Bathsheba as he discovers her working on her land. She's shooting birds that are eating a harvest, so she appears somewhat bold for a woman as she greets him holding a loaded rifle.  Mr. Boltwood is one of those 'gentlemen farmers' you see. He doesn't actually work on his farm, he has hirelings for that, so seeing a female landowner actually working the farm is a shock to his sensibilities.

As time goes on Boltwood is taken with our heroine. Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba and does a superb performance in the leading role. (She was also in The Great Gatsby as Daisy). Bathsheba is bold, unconventional and independent for a Victorian Era woman. She's far ahead of her times. The scene with her shooting birds with a rifle, coupled with her refusal of Mr. Oak's offer and a clip of her riding hard across the countryside astride a horse tell us she is not a meek, easily managed woman.

Like the first suitor, Boltwood proposes to Bathsheba. His proposal is different. He keeps saying he wants to provide for her and protect her all her days. In other words, he wants to put her in a box or on a high pedestal. He even suggests she might still run her own farm as sort of a hobby. He offers her a huge manor house complete with a full staff, prestige as his wife, money, fancy clothing, jewels . . . . it's like a dream come true for most women, a Cinderella storyline.

Except Bathsheba is not a woman to be bought by the promise of pretty things and a life of ease.

Suitor number one, Mr. Oaks, wanted her to be his wife and help him run his farm.

Mr. Boltwood wants her to be his cherished doll to pretty up his mansion. She wants neither option.

She confides that she'd rather be tamed by a man, implying these two are no match for her bold temperament. Well, she does have a point with Mr. Boltwood. He appears to be quite the Milquetoast fellow. Dithering and blundering about.

Sergeant Frank Troy, a bit riskier, but dashing all the same

Be careful what you wish for, Bathsheba!

Enter suitor number three, Sergeant Frank Troy. He's a soldier who is at present not working. He comes in, all bold and dangerous, dashing in his regimental uniform and brandishing his sword. He appears to be everything she hoped for, dashing, brave, strong minded. They have a secret tryst in the village, and then she marries him impulsively. And soon learns her mistake; our dashing hero is a drunk and a gambler. Their marriage was based solely on passion and great sex. As the passion wanes, things sour. He keeps racking up debts, and siphons money she has saved up for farm business and repairs. She resists his plundering of her funds, and he starts berating her, threatening her verbally. Her two prior suitors, both actually still love her, are both appalled and worried about her. Abuse is hinted at in the movie.

There are numerous plot twists I won't go into. Sergeant Troy has secrets, one being a woman who carries his child. Bathsheba sees them together at the local fair, and confronts her husband about the woman. She is told by the cruel man that that woman is the one he truly loves, and that she (Bathsheba) means nothing to him. Well, that's quite a slap in the face. She now knows he married her only for her money. His lover dies and he goes off into a funk. We see him strip off his clothing and swim out to sea. He drowns.

Bathsheba is sad but also relieved to be free of him at last. Months go by. She dutifully wears black and attends his grave. Mr. Boltwood resumes his courtship, and she seriously considers his suite. After all, she married for passion the first time and it turned out badly. A good pushover in a man might be refreshing after what she's come through with her choice of a spouse.

Things are complicated when Mr. Oak is now interested her hand again. (He loves her and never really stopped pining for her throughout the story-line. But he works for her, so he is beneath her socially).  So she has the choice oset before her again of Boltwood or Oak.

And just when you think her life has turned for the good, Sergeant Troy turns up alive, and angry. He faked his death months ago and now he's back, demanding money. He tries to force her to go home with him at Mr. Boltwood's magnificent Christmas Eve house party.  A party, I might add, where Mr. Boltwood is expecting her to give him the decision about accepting his offer of marriage. Troy strikes Bathsheba in front of Mr. Oak and grabs her arm, dragging her away. And then Mr. Boltwood emerges from the house surprises everyone . . . . turning from a mouse into a fierce lion as he sees the woman he loves being mistreated by her suddenly returned from the dead husband.

I know, I know . . . sounds like a soap opera, doesn't it? But it was written one hundred and forty years ago!  Not all classic literature is boring.

I won't reveal the ending, and spoil your enjoyment of the movie. But I will tell you that our heroine, Bathsheba, faces an emotional choice this time, and it will surprise you.

Note: I have not read the book. It is classic English literature, but somehow I missed that one. I plan to read it soon. The book is much longer than the movie. In an interview in the bonus material, the directors said that if they tried to follow every plot thread in the book, that it would be a six hour miniseries, not a two hour movie. I enjoyed this new discovery more than I can express. This movie will go on my desert island keeper shelf, one to watch and fall in love with again and again.

The love story featuring three suitors vying for Bathsheba's hand, each one equally appealing in their own way, is incredibly romantic. The landscape where the film was shot is gorgeous, in Dorset where the story was originally set. So, the mix of a good, suspenseful romance, the depicted charm of country life in Victorian England, the lovely costumes and the setting make this a bewitching combination.

I highly recommend this film to those who love such period pieces as Jane Austen. You will be mesmerized by this lush romantic film.

Enjoy a sneak peek with the trailer below:
Far From the Maddening Crowd Movie Trailer