ON SET

‘Far From the Madding Crowd’

Go behind the scenes with director Thomas Vinterberg.


Since Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” was published in 1874, it’s been filmed for the screen on several occasions, including John Schlesinger’s three-hour 1967 epic starring Julie Christie. When it arrives in theaters May 1, the Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s lean, quick-witted version will be the fourth such adaptation. “Is it really?” says Vinterberg, almost audibly wincing. “I’m still trying to pretend this is a one-off love affair between me and Thomas Hardy.” It’s not hard to see why filmmakers, more than a century later, are still falling for the story of Bathsheba Everdene, a young, hardheaded beauty who comes of age after inheriting a farm in the English countryside. Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan) is a startlingly modern female character, all the more so considering the neo-Victorian era in which she was created. She’s delightfully prone to displays of nerve that leave men speechless, like early on in the film, when she receives a marriage proposal from Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a shepherd and romantic presence as steady as his name: “I shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding, if it only meant I didn’t have to have a husband as well,” she informs him. “Mr. Oak, I’m too independent for you.”

“Either Hardy was a visionary,” Vinterberg says, “or life as a woman hasn’t changed over the last 140 years. Probably a little of both.” To match such a contemporary leading woman, the director and his screenwriter David Nicholls worked to update the rest of the book. “We wanted to stay humble to Hardy, and yet make it watchable to a younger audience.” They modernized the dialogue without forgoing its melody or originality, a process not unlike literary translation. (Vinterberg’s father is a translator.) Vinterberg maintained the sense of sweeping drama and intrigue of Bathsheba’s dalliances with Oak, the moneyed older neighbor Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and the devilish cad Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), but shot mostly with natural light on location in Wessex to avoid any excessive staginess. And the period dress in the film is not so different from certain pieces one might find in menswear shops on the Lower East Side of Manhattan today. “We really set out to get beneath the surface of the costumes and period to get to the story,” Vinterberg says. “In a sense, we wanted to get past the frocks and bonnets.”

Photos: ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’

“In the middle of a shooting a big fire scene with Matthias. From our attitudes, we’re not done yet.”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

“The sheep were hard to herd. I’m a practical dude, so I was like, Let’s just put up some electrical fences and we can remover them in CGI. But we ended up with a more romantic take on it—a guy with a thistle.”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

“Wessex, where Hardy grew up, is beautiful. With light like that, there’s not much you need to do.”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

“Carey with Jessica Barden, who plays Bathsheba’s confidante. Those two together are always in a fantastic mood. You can tell I’m either going to smile, or that I just smiled.”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

“This is the moment right after Bathsheba begs Oak to return. Carey is standing on a box to simulate the height of being on horseback. It’s probably one of my three favorite scenes—it’s the kind of romance I want to watch on Christmas Day, in front of a fireplace.”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

“We cast Carey by page 10 of the first read. I said, ‘This character is Carey Mulligan.’ A beautiful combination of strength and vulnerability.”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

“Juno Temple, who plays Troy’s fiancée, was so amazing, but she just didn’t get much space in the film. That’s the challenge with adaptations. We actually shot so much more material with her, but there just wasn’t room.”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

“Our costume designer, Janet Patterson, is a star. There’s just so much texture and richness to the clothes. They’re loyal to the period but also modern and fashionable.”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

“You can tell Carey enjoys that baby lamb. She’s a farm chick; she even has a farm.”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

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