Reel Relationships: Far From the Madding Crowd – Three Faces of Love

Far Madding Crowd 1Genre: Love Story, Drama
Running Time 119 min.
Writers: Thomas Hardy (novel), David Nicholls (screenplay)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge
Release Date: May 1, 2015


Based on the literary classic by Thomas Hardy, “Far From the Madding Crowd” is the story of independent, beautiful and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), who attracts three very different suitors; Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schonaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a handsome and reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor.

This timeless story of Bathsheba’s choices and passions explores the nature of relationships and love ­– as well as the human ability to overcome hardships through resilience and perseverance.


In analyzing the relationships in this movie, we reveal a lot about the plot, including the ending.


Carey Mulligan, Matthias Shoenaerts, and Michael Sheen at a press junket for "Far From the Madding Crowd" | Paula Schwartz Photo for Reel Life With Jane
Carey Mulligan, Matthias Shoenaerts, and Michael Sheen at a press junket for “Far From the Madding Crowd” | Paula Schwartz Photo for Reel Life With Jane

Men, this is the romantic date movie that all women will love, and that love might extend to you after it’s over. If you miss it in the theatres, see it snuggling on the couch with your honey when it’s on DVD. And don’t be surprised it you wind up liking it. Frank, my darling fighter pilot husband, was into it as much as I was.

Although the novel was published in 1874, Bathsheba Everdene is a strong, independent 21st Century heroine­. She’s a free-spirited beauty in the Victorian Age when women were anything but free. Described by the author as “excited, wild and honest,” she races her horse, shoots guns, is boldly confident, and runs the farm she inherits from her uncle with committed determination.

Bathsheba is also a young, inexperienced woman. Like so many young, inexperienced people, she thinks she knows everything – until life teaches her otherwise. The areas she is most clueless about are love, sex and relationship. An orphan, with no role models, she rebels against the idea that a woman needs a man, emotionally, physically or financially until three very different men test her.

She first meets handsome and capable Gabriel Oak, who awkwardly proposes to her when he’s a moderately successful sheep farmer and she’s basically penniless and living with her aunt in Dorset. At that point, she and we barely know him. Although she flirts with him, she refuses his offer, saying: “If I had a husband, I’d want someone to tame me,” and she knows he can’t.

Plus, she points out, in class-conscious England, he’d do better to marry someone who has as much wealth as he has. To a poor young woman In the 19th Century (and maybe even today), survival, not love was the issue, and most would have gratefully accepted his offer.

When a reversal of fortune wipes out Gabriel’s flock and Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm, she hires him. Now that she’s rich, he understands that marrying her is impossible; yet, like a poor man’s Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice’s hero), he remains in love with her, loyally protects her and helps her prosper through thick and thin. He’s a hunk with quiet integrity, a grounded, take-charge farmer who does what needs to be done. He’s also the only one who really gets her and isn’t afraid to call her on her bullshit, even if it means alienating her or losing his job.

Would a man like Gabriel stick around so long today? Probably not, but he’d probably keep tabs on Facebook and get in touch when the time seemed right. Or he’d be snatched up.

Bathsheba’s next marriage proposal comes from the most eligible bachelor in Dorset — her rich, educated, middle-aged neighbor, Mr. Boldwood. Bathsheba is at first intrigued by his lack of interest in her and, like the girl she is, sends him a Valentine as a prank. The effect on him is profound: he falls madly in love with her, becomes achingly vulnerable and wants to give her the world. Would that happen in real life? A man of midlife-crisis age falling head over heals for a gorgeous, unconventional, fertile young woman? Duh!

Two solid men cherish her and want to provide and protect, so who sweeps Bathsheba off her feet? The bad boy, of course. Frank Troy is a smooth-talking sergeant who dazzles her with his expert swordplay, compliments her beauty and does what her other two suitors were too respectful to do — ardently kisses her. This is Bathsheba’s first kiss, and it gets her hot and bothered. Sgt. Troy awakens Bathsheba’s sexuality, and for her, it feels like first love. In fact, she winds up marrying the one man she has nothing in common with, who doesn’t love her and destroys her security. Again, in real life do young (and old) mistake lust for love? Every day. Do they act in haste and choose the one person who is destined to make them unhappy? Way too often.

In the end, Bathsheba winds up with the right guy. The man who “tames her” is the one who understands and respects her, shares her values, is trustworthy and shows up. Gabriel learns something too. Instead of proposing, he finally just seals the deal by grabbing and kissing her. Bathsheba — and we — see that the sexiest choice is also the healthiest.


We all make mistakes in love, sex and relationship. We often don’t have good role models in our parents and peers to learn from, so it’s trial and error. Even when we do, we might not have the experience to make good choices.

How to find or recognize the right mate? Everyone creates lists of what they want in the perfect partner, but they’re often long and include everything they can think of. Then someone comes along who has some qualities and you think: “Okay, I’ll go for it.”

Frank and I advise our clients to create three lists: the first and most important is of requirements, which are by definition, not negotiable. Those are qualities your partner must have to even be considered a candidate and if they don’t, they’re disqualified. When the film starts, young Bathsheba has one requirement: a man who can tame her. Then she adds love and, from the way the film was shot, good sex. Obviously, this was an incomplete list for a happy relationship. Eventually, she understands she needs a partner who is as strong as she is and loves the farm, and someone with whom she can build a life.

Everyone has their own list, with specific needs: Marriage/committed relationship? Kids? Has the same religion/cultural/political/financial/sexual point of view and interests? Then there are, hopefully, values such as kindness, truthfulness and loyalty. Two items we suggest for all lists are: sane and willing to work through issues.

In counseling, we see that the couples that married or committed to partners who don’t fulfill their requirements are torn apart by unresolvable conflicts and power struggles. The ones who basically fulfill each others’ requirements work through their problems and thrive.

That’s why it’s so important to honor your own non-negotiable list of “must-haves” and “must-not haves.” It defines your boundaries and is the blueprint for a loving, lasting, joyful relationship – which you so deserve.


6 responses to “Reel Relationships: Far From the Madding Crowd – Three Faces of Love”

  1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

    I’m so glad you wrote about this movie, because I just saw it the other day and loved it. Although I was SCREAMING at the movie screen (well, internally) because she picked the wrong guy! When I saw the first guy, I knew right away that he was the one for her – noble, trustworthy, super romantic.

    Plus, I pretty much fell in love with Matthias Schoenaerts. And oh, that kiss at the end. Made me go weak in the knees.

    But you’re right – we all make mistakes in love and romance, and sometimes it just takes a while to finally be paired with the right person. That happened for me in my 20s, and for that, I’m very grateful.

  2. Judith Claire Avatar

    OMG! I fell in love with Matthias Schoenaerts too! Now I want to see him in Rust And Bones, which I missed and everything else he’s ever done or will do. Plus I think the director did an amazing job in portraying his character, who has few lines, but alot of screen time and closeups of his face. So much is told through his eyes and the expressions on his face.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Yes! That smoldering look – ahhhhhhhh!I will check out “Rust and Bone.” He was in “The Drop,” starring James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy, but he wasn’t on my radar when I saw it. Also has a TV miniseries coming up, “Lewis & Clark,” in which he plays William Clark and Casey Affleck plays Meriwether Lewis. That’ll be on HBO sometime in 2016. Also a couple movies coming up this year – “The Danish Girl” and “A Bigger Splash.”

    2. Judith Claire Avatar

      I have to also say that I found Martin Sheen really touching as the older man. Plus I thought Carey Mulligan did “astonish us all.”

  3. Clinton Avatar

    I think this is so true: “We all make mistakes in love, sex and relationship. We often don’t have good role models in our parents and peers to learn from, so it’s trial and error. Even when we do, we might not have the experience to make good choices.”

    So much of relationships is trial and error, but the important thing is to learn the lessons when they don’t work out. I totally agree that couples need to work out what are the non-negotiables, and then everything else can be negotiated. But the non-negotiables are deal-breakers!

    Great to find your blog. I’ll be back!

  4. Judith Claire Avatar

    Hi Clinton,
    Yes, learning the lessons so often gives us our list of non-negotiables. Note to self: make sure he/she wants to commit. Note to self: he/she is kind etc. I think I was 30 when I realized sane should be the first thing on my list.

    It sounds like you’re a conscious man who wants to create a great love, sex and relationship life. Do come back! And you can read our past articles. We look forward hearing what you think. Best, Judith

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