Matthias Schoenaerts  and Carey Mulligan in 'Far From the Madding Crowd'

Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan in ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’

The box office weekend analysis shows that “Far From the Madding Crowd” has steady gains and it’s no wonder because “Madding” is a crowd pleaser. Also, although a period piece based on the Thomas Hardy classic, it is a timely treat for all those who believe the more things change, the more they remain the same. Character Bathsheba Everdeen (Carey Mulligan) even inspired “The Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins to name Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) after the Hardy heroine.

During lunch at The Essex House before interviewing “Madding Crowd” cast members and  filmmakers, we were discussing how relevant the movie is today. At the press conference in the downstairs meeting room, cast members were asked about women who make wrong choices, particularly in the case of Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) being chosen over Gabriel Oak (Matthew Schoenaerts). Before Carey Mulligan could defend her choice, Schoenaerts immediately followed the question with a raise the roof gesture to pooh-pooh her defense and acknowledge the astute observation as everyone laughed hysterically.

Being able to choose a mate in that era, whether appropriate or not, was the draw for Mulligan.When I read it, that’s what I was most excited about that it was a story that started with a woman who turned down a proposal of marriage and a good one, and a really good one in our film,” Mulligan chuckled.  “It’s a young woman in a Victorian classic that isn’t looking to be married and isn’t looking to be defined by a man. It hasn’t even crossed her mind. That’s what was so exciting.

“It’s obviously not the viewpoint of most women during that time. Throughout the whole story, she sort of enjoys bucking social convention and being different,” Mulligan explained. “That’s who she is. There’s so much to her. She’s incredibly complicated and stubborn, fallible, spontaneous and impetuous.”

Michael Sheen also relishes the intuitive quality of the narrative and its foresight. “I think he’s offering a lot more that he just hasn’t got the words for it,” Sheen said. “There’s that fantastic line that Bethesda has. ‘I don’t have the language to say what I want to say because it [language] was invented by men.’ it’s a fantastic line and I also feel it sort of refers to him as well. He doesn’t have the language to deal with Batsheba when he said, ‘I’ll give you dresses and a piano,’ and she says, ‘I’ve got dresses and a piano.’ So then he doesn’t know what to do because that’s not all he’s got to give. He’s got a lot more to give. He just doesn’t have the language to speak it.”

Carey Mulligan visiting Congo in War Child effort

Carey Mulligan visiting Congo in War Child effort

Taking a stand as the best suitor for Bathsheba, Schoenaerts spoke of how noble Gabriel is and his own personal beliefs, notwithstanding. “He stays on the path of righteousness and loyalty and that is something I admire in people and which is pretty rare,” Schoenaerts stated. “That is why I basically wanted to do this project [among] the many reasons of course. I think Gabriel represents values that are so admirable; and despite all the suffering and all the emotional blows he gets, he stays on that path.

“There’s no self pity, which is something I admire as well and he chooses to be a very loyal friend that is never be manipulative. Every advice he gives Bathsheba is selfless. It’s not trying to twist her arm around in his direction. It’s accepting what your position is, being truthful and giving advice that seems right. That’s what he says in the end when she asks him, ‘what should I do?’ And he says very simply, ‘do what is right.’ It’s easily said than done, but when he says it, it comes from the right place.”

Carey Mulligan is definitely coming from the right place. When she visited the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo last October, she not only wrote about the inspiring children she met, but became involved with the welfare of children devastated by war. “Children are children, no matter where they are in the world, and they should have no place in war,” she said. To get involved in the campaign or donate, go to http://www.warchild.org.uk/

Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]