The Writers Gallery at the Dorset County Museum is currently embellished by three striking costumes from the new film adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd, currently on loan from Fox Searchlight Pictures and Cosprop costumiers. These are outfits worn by Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, the headstrong yet vulnerable heroine of the story, in the wedding scenes in the film. There is the smart dress and hat of the runaway wedding day, the gold striped silk dress and embroidered silk jacket of her homeward journey, and a dress worn at the wedding party. These costumes were designed by BAFTA Award winner and four times Academy Award nominated costume designer Janet Patterson (The Piano, Bright Star)
On display too is a section of the novel written in Thomas Hardy’s own hand, illustrations from the original publication by Helen Allingham. Among much else to be seen is a first edition, and reproductions of scenes of rural Wessex by Henry Joseph Moule, Hardy’s friend and watercolourist, and the first curator of the Dorset County Museum.
Thomas Hardy would surely have welcomed the new film dramatization of one of his greatest novels. Adapted for the screen by novelist, David Nicholls, it is directed by the acclaimed Thomas Vinterberg. It is a powerful film, which reflects the essence of this great novel. The photography is stunning, giving a strong sense of place in the atmospheric shots of Dorset landscapes throughout the seasons. We see the inner turmoil of the characters in close up as the drama unfolds, and their outward reactions to the danger when the farm is under threat by fire or violent thunderstorm. This is a film full of action and drama.
Above all, Far from the Madding Crowd is a love story about the beautiful Bathsheba Everdene and the three men who desire her. A young woman of spirit and vitality, she has the courage to take on challenges presented by her romantic relationships, and in becoming a successful woman farmer. Carey Mulligan brings Bathsheba to life in a remarkably sensitive manner. We feel her strength and spirit, and her youthful disregard of danger and consequent vulnerability, which will resonate with modern audiences.
Far from the Madding Crowd was written when Hardy was 33, and was his fourth published novel. It first appeared in serial form in 1874 in The Cornhill magazine with illustrations by Helen Allingham. The novel became so popular that Hardy could afford to give up architecture, to marry Emma Lavinia, and to become a full-time writer.
Hardy’s acute sense of colours and beauty and detail make his writing easy to visualise. For instance, Gabriel’s first view of Bathsheba:
…It was a fine morning and the sun lighted up to a scarlet glow the crimson jacket she wore, and painted a soft lustre upon her bright face and dark hair.
Later, the season for sheep-shearing having finished:
It was the first day of June …Every green was young, every pore was open and every stalk was swollen with racing currents of juice. God was palpably present in the country and the devil had gone with the world to town.
Bathsheba’s meeting with Troy is vividly expressed as she sees him lit up by a lantern as ‘brilliant in brass and scarlet ’and
His sudden appearance was to darkness what the sound of a trumpet is to silence.
This is a dramatic story, full of pivotal moments, changing fortunes and expectations. Bathsheba’s inheritance of her uncle’s farm provides her with great opportunities, whereas Gabriel’s loss of his sheep does the reverse. When Bathsheba sends a Valentine card, as a joke, to Boldwood it awakens a doom-laden obsession, whereas the chance encounter between Troy and Bathsheba sets them on the path of their passionate affair, with consequences beyond their own fate.
The setting is rural Wessex with its farms, villages and market towns and a way of life virtually unchanged for centuries, dependant on the livestock and crops grown by those who worked the land. People travel by foot, horseback, or horse-drawn vehicles, and are thus mostly rooted in their locality.
The lives of the main characters are played out against the backdrop of a close-knit community and the wider natural world. This local community includes workers, the farm owners and wealthier land owners, their lives interwoven as the drama unfolds. Even the dangerously attractive Sergeant Troy has his roots in the world of farming, as have Gabriel Oak and gentleman farmer, William Boldwood. In this tale happiness and sadness, comedy and tragedy, light and dark, and the sheer variety of moods, combine to make it compelling.
In the words of Virginia Woolf, talking about Hardy’s Wessex Novels:
Our imaginations have been stretched and heightened; our humour has been made to laugh out; we have drunk deep of the beauty of the earth.
The costumes from the film are currently on display at the Dorset County Museum and on display until 8th June 2015. For further information contact the Museum on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org
- Internet Movie Database: Far from the Madding Crowd 
- Wikipedia: Far from the Madding Crowd 
- BBC Films: Far from the Madding Crowd 
Dorset County Museum is grateful for the support of the following:
- Fox Searchlight Pictures: Far from the Madding Crowd 
- RS1 Security
- Hardy Signs
- The Thomas Hardy Society
- Arts Council Renaissance Strategic Support Fund
- Staff and volunteers at Dorset County Museum