There is a new film from the conveyor belt of Thomas Hardy films. It is called far from the Madding Crowd. The films lead star is Carey Mulligan, who stars as “Bathsheba Everdene” who comes across as a kind of Scarlett O’Hara, (a character created much later in 1936 by Margaret Mitchell). Like Scarlett, Bathsheba is a headstrong independent woman, (very much a modern day woman) who has dilemmas when it comes to choosing men, which will also involve losing her independence. First to pursue her is Gabriel Oak, a noble man, who she has much to thank for. Then there is farmer William Boldwood, who has a puppy dog love for her. Of course she finally succumbs to the wrong man, a slime ball called Sergeant Troy, the archetypal cad, who nearly brings about her undoing. Right from the off the film, twists and turns and has a modern day soap opera feel about it at times, dished up with occasional Hollywood clichés, Gabriel and Bathsheba, in a tight clinch riding a horse. The setting couldn’t be more perfect rural Dorset by the sea, the rolling hills appearing sculpted by God, littered with roaming sheep.
There have been previous epic Hardy inspired films. Who could forget “Tess” by Roman Polanski. Set in Wessex County, England during the Victorian era, the film centers around, misfortunes of a young shy, innocent, proper yet proud peasant girl, Tess Durbeyfield, who happens to be a descendant of the aristocratic d’Urberville family. She seeks umbrage with the family, but this only leads to an unfortunate encounter, with an utter bastard of a man, “cousin” Alec, who is not a true d’Urbervilles, but rather from an opportunistic family, who have purchased the name in order to improve their own standing in life. Alec abuses her innocence. Later on in the film we encounter Angel Clare, the son of a parson and an apprentice farmer, the man Tess should have been with, the man would have offered contentment. Angel and Tess fall in love with each other. Their happiness is shadowed by her previous entanglement with Alec. The film moves on into a dramatic ending, as Tess can only rid herself of Alec, by murdering him. This film is much grittier that the recent “Far from the madding crowd film”.
An even harder film is “Jude” directed by Michael Winterbottom. The story is so tragic it almost excruciatingly so, the ending is dramatic and heart-wrenching. Playing the part of Sue, was Kate Winslett, before the furor of Titanic. The other main actor was Christopher Ecclestone, a bright young lower-class man who dreams of a university education. Sue is another headstrong, highly intelligent, modern day woman, who is not afraid of going against convention. When the two finally get embroiled, they are immediately deemed as social outcasts, as the film is set in conventional Victorian era.
Hardy’s books certainly make fodder for dramatic films, set in glorious countryside. Woman will surely relate to the leading female characters in his films, the fact they are strong in the face of such adversity. The films aren’t sugary sweet period pieces, they can be deeply moving. For sure Hardy conjured up great books, which are perfect for films, in the modern age.