Far from the Madding Crowd
Far from the Madding Crowd **
Whatever quantity of soap froths up Thomas Vinterberg's presentation of Thomas Hardy's novel, it does nothing to fade out the lush colors that stain his gorgeous depiction of the author's English countryside. A lean and dimpled Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, a woman comfortable with solitude who still finds herself courted by a rugged farmer (Matthias Schoenaerts), a wealthy bachelor (Michael Sheen), and a handsome soldier (Tom Sturridge). All that attention gets in the way of her effort to carve out her own life for her own self as the head of an inherited estate, and yet...well, a girl likes to be noticed. And maybe befriended. And maybe... There is a certain softening of the Hardy hammer here: tragedies abound, but the story tends to move on before the pain has time to register. And while Bathsheba's pluck and spunk are obvious and admirable, her romantic maneuvers sometimes threaten to spill over from mysterious into simply maddening.
Matthew Lickona: There are those who say that when a film is set in the past, it’s in order to comment on the present. Was there a particular reason to make this film now?
Thomas Vinterberg: No. [Pauses, laughs.] No, no, I think there is a reason to make this film. I guess there will be a reason to make it a number of times, as has happened with other great works of English literature. I think Thomas Hardy’s novel tells a very modern and visionary story about being a woman, and being independent and up against a community, one which can be interpreted in a lot of ways. The characters are so rich and so layered and so flawed that we can keep mirroring ourselves in them.
But to an extent, this was a job I was asked to do by people who had already made the decision to make the film. People from England. I decided to pretend that this was a one-off love affair between me and Thomas Hardy, beause that was the most truthful thing for me. I didn’t want to navigate through what was expected or not expected or repetitive or not repetitive. I just wanted to embed myself in the novel and the script and devote myself to it. I was humbled by this book; it made me curious to explore Hardy country. I guess curiosity is the main gasoline of being a filmmaker; it’s an exploration of a time and an era and a country that I didn’t know of.
ML: May I ask what you mean by “humbled”?
TV: It’s because I read these ten pages of landscape description coming right before the description of [Farmer] Oak. It was so rich and deep and colorful and full of nuance that you could almost smell it. Just the work of a master. At that point, I had a conversation with myself about how much of a Thomas Vinterberg and how much of a Thomas Hardy movie this is. I decided to devote to his work, to convey it as purely as possible to the screen.
ML: So you tried to make yourself transparent to Hardy?
TV: Yes, to a degree.
ML: Well, you certainly made the country look amazing. Could you talk about achieving that?
TV: Charlotte Bruus Christensen — a fellow Dane — was the cinematographer on this. We set out to try to get past the dresses and the horses and gigs and into the inner life of these characters, and to try to combine that with the sweep of Hollywood in the ’50s. The sense of Technicolor and warmth.
ML: I was struck by the richness of the darkness in the scene of the sheep going over the cliff.
TV: That comes from the increasing warmth of the rising sun, which is rising unnaturally fast in that sequence. It adds a sense of orange amid all the blue of the sky at dawn, and it gives that sense of richness.
ML: Actually, that whole scene was pretty amazing visually.
Far from the Madding Crowd trailer
TV: It was a very complex matter; there was a lot of effort behind that sequence, hours of meetings and work and planning. First of all, we had to avoid making it look ridiculous, like a Monty Python scene. So it had to look real. But we also wanted the beauty and scale of the landscape in Dorset. We found the most beautiful cliff we could find and said, “We want to shoot here.” They said, “This is not possible.” [To make it work], we shot in three locations: the sheep from behind, running over a small grassy knot. Then cut to this giant rock with dolls being thrown out over it. Then you go in with CGI and make their legs move, and replace the sand that comes out of them with blood.
ML: While I’m mentioning scenes, the one where the soldier does his swordplay for Bathsheba was awfully sexual for being fully clothed. I very much felt the threat of the blade.
TV: It was about the sensuality between Carey and Tom. It was very much about the location — all those ferns. It was interesting; he puts his hand between her legs, and that was a bit much for the Brits. They called it the Danish Handshake, which I thought was quite fun. As for the threat of the sword, we wanted the camera to be exactly on her eyeline. So he was fencing the camera. To enable him to get really close to the camera. we had to make some of the shots with a sword that was not existing. We added it in later with CGI.
ML: Speaking of Carey, what made her the right choice for Bathsheba?
TV: It’s difficult to be precise, because it’s a conglomeration of many things. And I’m going to leave out all the trivialities about how brilliant she is, because everybody knows that. I found in her a combination of strength and control and fragility. This portrait of a lady, I think, conveys a beautiful dilemma of wanting to be an independent, strong career woman of that time and yet still having that urge to devote to a man. I thought Carey could convey that, because she does have that duality between strength and vulnerability.
ML: As with Cinderella, I quite liked the film’s use of a song sung by the characters.
TV: There is so much to tell in the story, so many scenes that carry plot. You have to get through all of them: the sheep have to go over the cliff, the Valentine’s card. I was yearning for moments that could just breathe, where we could just be present with the characters. That’s why the song became important for me, because it was part of the ritual of life on the farm.