Let me first take you on a detour. Out of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair was usually one of my least favorites, along with The Magician's Nephew. I came to decide that these were the least likable stories out of the seven because the main characters in them fail--and as we read their stories, we are reminded of our own failures. (All of the books in the series contain failures, of course, because that's how the characters learn--but the failures just seem more central in these two than in the rest.) And it isn't always pleasant to be reminded of how we fail.
In Far From the Madding Crowd, Bathsheba Everdene begins with a familiar story: she is educated but poor and yet she doesn't want to marry because, essentially, she wants to belong to herself. Then the plot changes: a series of events lead to her financial stability and she proves herself as smart and hardworking, worthy of the place she has been given and capable of maintaining it. But then there is that question of love, of marriage.
There is the man she refused, the man she refuses again and again, and the man to whom she says yes. She says yes to the man who seduces her because seduction is new to her, and so despite all of her strength and independence, she didn't realize that she was supposed to resist this seduction because it was not love. Her failure nearly ruins her, personally and financially--only certain events and her own realization can set things right.
I loved this movie, overall. Bathsheba felt like such a fresh and unique character and I love that she has herself together most of the time but makes those mistakes that color in her character and make her come alive, make her become relatable. It's strange, perhaps, that I'm comparing the sense of failure in this movie to that in The Silver Chair while also naming this the reason that I disliked the latter and liked the former. Maybe the difference comes because this was just a movie with a happy ending (though it has some pretty heartbreaking material in there, too) and so any message in there becomes easier and lighter to swallow.
It was also just such a good-looking movie to watch, with lush English countryside and all of these sheep and wonderful skies and storms. Production worked together with theme, whether we're talking locations and sets or music or cinematography (and since I haven't mentioned elsewhere, Carey Mulligan was wonderful in this role--this is probably her best work). I don't think I've ever watched any movies based on Thomas Hardy novels (and the only one of his works that I've read was Jude the Obscure), so it's just overall been a new experience.
With Victorian novels, it's often (perhaps not always, but often) a good thing to have some sort of introduction to the story before reading. Back when I first saw the trailer for Far From the Madding Crowd sometime last year, I considered trying to read the book first--but I think it worked out better this way. This way I was able to simply enjoy the creation that is this movie. I'll get to the book later. For now I'm just going to picture Bathsheba riding horses and working her farm (she reminds me of Beatrix Potter at the end of Miss Potter in this regard) and going over to talk to Gabriel. Hers is an entertaining story and a little reminder to think and act clearly and to recognize a good thing (and a bad thing).