This is my analysis of Far From the Madding Crowd‘s Bathsheba Everdene as arguably Thomas Hardy’s most iconic heroine and the recent film adaptation’s modern take on the classic story. This was originally written for a short introduction to the screening of the film at No.6 Cinema, Portsmouth, but due to various reasons it could not go ahead and so it has been published on the No.6 Cinema blog. I have however, also posted it here to add to my portfolio on my blog of film lectures/talks I have done.
Far From the Madding Crowd tells the classic tale of headstrong farmer Bathsheba Everdene who attempts to weave a path of independence for herself in a world dominated by men. Far ahead of her time, Bathsheba takes orders from no one and proudly declares “my intention is to astonish you all”, and astonish she does as, unfazed by her limiting gender role, she becomes head of the farm she inherits from her uncle and proves her capability of ensuring it thrives. This is a tale of love, obsession and betrayal, as three suitors present themselves to Bathsheba, attempting throughout the film to win her heart. This is a tough challenge for the men to overcome as Bathsheba is a woman who declares that she does not want a husband as she would hate to be some man’s property.
What makes this recent adaptation different from the iconic 1967 film starring Julie Christie, or the BBC TV adaptation in 1998, is its patent sense of modernity. Avant garde director Thomas Vinterberg does an outstanding job at bringing to life Hardy’s fictional dreamland known as Wessex through his lush images of Dorset. Vinterberg collaborated with screenwriter David Nicholls, who also penned the screenplay for the 2008 BBC adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles (pictured right) starring Gemma Arterton. Nicholls has a self-declared fondness for Thomas Hardy, and similarly to Tess, his ability to positively communicate the stories of resilient women who remain strong throughout their misfortunes is evident.
The action of this adaptation has been brought forward to 1880, a time when clothes for women began to transition into a slightly more modern style. This allowed costume designer Janet Patterson to create suitable outfits for a heroine who requires freedom of movement for her bareback horse rides, climbing of ladders and wades into water to help the men with their farming duties. The first image the film presents us with is a person entering a darkened room. They are dressed in trousers and a fitted leather jacket, leading us to assume the person is male. We realise shortly after however that the character is in fact the female protagonist Bathsheba, the heroine of our film. Bathsheba’s red, leather jacket looks almost like a piece of armour, suggesting our protagonist is capable of fighting her own battles. In the next scene, we see Bathsheba sitting side saddle on a horse – a typical riding position for females in the Victorian era. Before setting off however, she swings her leg over the horse to ride it in a traditionally masculine position. It becomes clear that this is a film that breaks gender binaries and conventions. That Bathsheba is not tied down by her role as a female.
“It is hard for a woman to define her feelings in a language chiefly made by men to express theirs”. Bathsheba’s statement illuminates the dominance of the male sex during the Victorian era, but it is interesting to consider that Bathsheba’s words themselves are
created by a male writer, Thomas Hardy. Hardy presents the reader of his novel with a fiercely independent and strong-minded protagonist, something he seemed fond of doing when we examine his other literary heroines such as Tess Durbeyfield. Bathsheba’s determination, charming wit and lively intelligence make her an unusual female protagonist that stands out amongst the overdone collection of recent female characters in Hollywood. Characters that appear to exist to satisfy the demand for a more complex and interesting female representation, but still serve their purpose as a prize for the male lead.
What makes Bathsheba significantly stand out however, is her ability to make mistakes, act without clear motivation, and often be cruel. Bathsheba began as a lead female
character in a novel that was originally published almost 150 years ago, a time when not many iconic female role models existed. However, Hardy’s much-loved heroine became a feminist icon amongst the female characters of literature and film. Perhaps one of the most recent examples of one of Bathsheba’s heroine successors is Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, whose last name is a homage to Hardy’s heroine.
Despite Far From the Madding Crowd being set almost 150 years ago, Bathsheba’s legacy has manifested itself through generations of young women and men who look up to her as a symbol of freedom and strength, a woman who is self-empowered but not motivated by power. As a move toward gender equality has progressed significantly over the past 100 years but with much more still to be done, I think that this makes Bathsheba as important a role model today, as she was at the time of the book’s publication.