At the start of summer, when my wife and I marked our 21st wedding anniversary by going to see “Far from the Madding Crowd,” I had no trouble finding the right theater at our local cineplex.
“You’re in here with the rest of us old married couples,” a fellow patron said as he opened the door for me. We’d never met before, but the stranger had spotted my wife and me ambling down the corridor with our popcorn and correctly sized us up as the movie’s likely demographic.
We entered the theater and, true to his prediction, saw that the seats were filled with men and women of a certain age — by which I mean that we were still young enough to drive at night, yet too old to attend a 9 p.m. movie without nodding off.
We weren’t surprised to find ourselves in the company of so many baby boomers. An adaptation of Englishman Thomas Hardy’s 1874 romance novel, “Far from the Madding Crowd” has no explosions, caped avengers or reanimated dinosaurs, which is why, I guess, the younger couples stayed away.
Even so, this new version of “Madding,” now out on DVD and cable TV, is something that twentysomething viewers should see. Its basic lesson — that a fun romantic partner isn’t necessarily a good life partner — has more wisdom in it than any of those dating tutorials in Cosmopolitan or GQ.
Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, an orphaned heroine who’s surprised by the inheritance of a sheep farm. Propertied and self-confident, Bathsheba’s in no hurry to marry, although she quickly attracts three suitors. Neighboring landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) proposes marriage as a kind of business merger, which leaves Bathsheba cold. Dashing Sgt. Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) is loads of fun during his courtship, but Bathsheba realizes that when she really needs him, Troy’s too much of a good-time Charlie to help. In the quiet farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), who’s romantic but reliable, Bathsheba finds the right match, learning that marriage requires both passion and practicality.
Gabriel uses one of the more unconventional methods for impressing a woman when he cures Bathsheba’s sheep of gas. It’s not the sort of gimmick I came across when I was trying to attract girls in college, but Gabriel’s intimate grasp of animal husbandry saves Bathsheba from financial ruin — and wins her heart in the bargain.
Apparently, women occasionally give guys brownie points for practical skills, which is why, I guess, I was able to eventually land a wife. I’m not much to look at, but as my significant other sometimes notes with approval, I can unclog the garbage disposal and kill bugs.
Should my wife ever buy any sheep with intestinal problems, though, I’m afraid she’s out of luck.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.