The Enduring Power of Hardy

Competition published on May 1, 2015.

The enduring popularity of Thomas Hardy’s novels seems quite mysterious for in many ways he is the most old-fashioned of writers, forever casting the fates of his unfortunate characters over to a malign “President of the Immortals,” as he says in Tess of The D’Urbervilles. These days, readers of realist fiction expect their plots to hinge on a natural sequence of internal consequences not on a Presidential deus ex machina, but nevertheless, Hardy seems never to have gone out of fashion and May 1st will see the release of the fourth film version of arguably his most popular novel, Far From the Madding Crowd, a gorgeous title lifted, of course, from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.

Hardy’s powerful novel of swift sexual passion and slow-burning loyalty centres on Bathsheba Everdene, a proud working woman whose life is complicated by three different men – respectable farmer Boldwood, seductive Sergeant Troy and devoted Gabriel Oak – making her the object of scandal and betrayal. Vividly portraying the superstitions and traditions of a small rural community, Far from the Madding Crowd shows the precarious position of a woman in a man’s world.

Far From The Madding Crowd FILM STILLFar From the Madding Crowd is the second of Hardy’s great series of Wessex novels. His other novels include Under the Greenwood Tree, The Return of the Native, Two on a Tower, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. It’s an extraordinarily rich corpus of work and stands comparison with any of the English greats like Austen, Eliot, Dickens, and Lawrence.

The film stars Carey Mulligan (Shame, The Great Gatsby) as Bathsheba, with Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge and Matthias Schoenaerts as the three suitors she must choose between. It’s been directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) from a script by David Nicholls (One Day). Hollywood critic Pete Hammond has already declared it superior to the earlier versions, John Schlesinger’s 1967 version in particular, which he nails as “the still life version” of the novel before summarizing the movie as follows:

“Aided by David Nicholl’s fine script and gorgeous cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen this Madding Crowd is the perfect antidote to The Avengers tsumani about to wash over the world’s multiplexes”.

Two thumbs up, in Ebertian terms, then. Go see it.

Bert Wright – Editor, The Nudge List

Far From The Madding Crowd is released in cinemas on 1st May (c) Fox Searchlight UK

Watch a trailer

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