Following Thomas Hardy’s heroine Bathsheba Everdene (played by Carey Mulligan), Far From The Madding Crowd (in UK cinemas now) takes us on a wistful romantic journey through the great British countryside, stopping at Dorset beaches, farms and beautiful period properties along the way.
“The English countryside and beaches are stunning,” says Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, who was responsible for the glorious look and feel of the new Hardy adaptation. “When we went to Dorset, I thought I want to live here.”
Here, Christensen reveals some of her favourites places to relive scenes from the movie…
“When we saw Mapperton, we knew we’d found Bathsheba’s farm; it wasn’t only the right farm we were looking for, it was the setting,” explains Christensen. “It was perfect for when they do the harvest in the movie. It’s situated in a valley and behind it there are green hills – it’s the image of what you imagine when reading Thomas Hardy’s novel. Back in Denmark, I saw something in the book, but I hadn’t even been to Dorset yet. It’s such a character, and that made me nervous, how was I going to deliver on those descriptions? Often when you take a photograph you look at the photo and think ‘it was much more beautiful when I was there’ – but this place has it. It has the details, the shadows, the sheep behind the house. You can visit the gardens, where we were shooting, and there is a brilliant café there, some days they open the house. It’s definitely a place to see.”
Recognisable from hit ITV drama Broadchurch, this dramatic location was also used by Far from the Madding Crowd for the notable sheep scene. “We shot the sheep coming over the cliff scene in two different locations, one was when Gabriel Oak (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) comes down and walks to the beach with the big cliff there. The sheep are dead on the beach – that’s West Bay and it’s beautiful. Gabriel notices that everything he’s worked for is done, when he walks to the dead sheep we knew that it had to be something grand, dangerous and massive – we needed that dramatic setting. Again, it was the perfect spot.
“We also needed views for the movie, and in Dorset there are so many rolling hills. At this particular spot, it goes down and goes flat. We used it for a couple of scenes, including where we see a little shape in the distance of a man, it could be Sergeant Troy (played by Tom Sturridge), he’s walking cross country in a snowy scene and the shape of the hills are edgy, it has a much harder look.”
“This is an amazing spot,” says Christensen. “We did the Sergeant Troy swimming scenes in a nearby bay, on the very first day of shooting in mid-September. It stared out nice but got very cold. I was in the water with the camera for 10 hours, it got really rough. Tom Sturridge was in the water six or seven times – but we had people out there to look after him and take his temperature and so on. There’s a campsite nearby, with a little shop and restaurant you can try. There are plenty of hikes and beach walks too, it’s really nice.”
“Doubling for William Boldwood’s (played by Michael Sheen) house in the movie, Claydon in Buckinghamshire is a lovely place,” says Christensen. “In terms of the visual story it was perfect for Boldwood, we were looking for somewhere with a box shape to it, because Mapperton – Bathsheba Everdene’s place – was around a corner, had arches, dark corners, small windows and is a funny, more mysterious place. We wanted Boldwood’s to be the contrast – a big square box. It had to represent wealth and power, the windows had to be high and grand.”
Fans of the film can visit the splendid 18th century National Trust property, walk through its lavish rooms, and re-live the scene in which Bathsheba attends the ball, and where she runs into someone she’d never thought she’d see again. “We did some takes with Boldwood in the large room, and he’s crying on his own. This lonely man was in those big spaces,” says Christensen. “Sadly they didn’t make it into the film in the end.”
“We filmed the hut, where Gabriel sleeps very close to the sea, near West Bay,” explains Christensen. “There are a lot of walks around the area; plus lots of beautiful hills with trees. It’s really quite extraordinary up there. In the movie you will remember it when Gabriel is running up the cliff after his sheep.”