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How They Did It: Bringing the Hardy Atmosphere to ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ (Video)

How They Did It: Bringing the Hardy Atmosphere to 'Far from the Madding Crowd' (Video)

When it came to capturing the warm, soft, English countryside of Dorset  — Thomas Hardy country — for Thomas Vinterberg’s latest version of “Far from the Madding Crowd,” cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen insisted on 35mm film shot with the Panaflex Millenium. There was simply no other way to get the purity of Hardy.

“It was a dream and a wish for Thomas and me, knowing that it would be a battle, but we wrote a letter to the producers explaining why 35mm would be important for this film,” the Danish Christensen explained. “It was obviously the texture and with Thomas Hardy it’s all about texture. And maybe an audience can’t see the different but they can feel the difference. We didn’t do a lot grading for the film because we didn’t want to force a digital look by adding grain and then layers and layers and layers of things. We wanted it pure because that’s what the story is.”

And that goes for interiors as well, particularly the candlelit beauty of Carey Mulligan singing “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme.” It’s a scene of both visual and emotional elegance, as the beguiling Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan) enjoys a celebratory dinner on her farm while two suitors look on affectionately in a romantic game of chess: Mr. Boldwood (Michael Sheen), her forlorn neighbor, and loyal sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts).

But what sets this scene apart from the rest of the film is that it was more improvisational — they wanted to be free to explore the mood — so Christensen walked around the whole time with a camera and lit for 360 degrees. She also built a camera softbox with springboards to control camera angles and placed one case for back light to turn up or down.

“We didn’t want to force a look on something,” Christensen remarked. “We actually just want to be with these people in 1876 and not try and photograph a beautiful wall or a beautiful dress. It’s not about that — it’s about atmosphere. And it’s about people looking at each other as well as you would today when you’re in love with someone. Actually going not documentary but just very truthful. We had no shot list but other than wanting specific angles on Oak and Boldwood, we shot it like a theater piece. So it was playing from the beginning of the scene to the end.”

Obviously working with candlelight was a big thing for Christensen, not only in terms of color but also the way it reacts to a face in close-up and at a distance. She didn’t want it to be to over lit, as in many period films: she wanted to photograph the actual flame in action.

“It was a very small room and I chose to shoot the scene in a slow stop, which obviously means I need more light and it falls off quicker into darkness when night falls. And getting that truthfulness of candlelight falling off was important.”

There are individual stories within the scene about Bathsheba wanting to assert her independence, and the rivalry between Oak and Boldwood. “We’ve got Oak at one table and Boldwood at another and the looks between them,” Christensen suggested. “But Oak gives up his seat to Boldwood when he enters, so it’s also a story of occupying spaces. But then Oak chooses a spot between them. There’s a shot where Oak looks to Bathsheba and then looks away towards Boldwood. We can only see the back of him but we know what he’s feeling.
“It’s spring, it’s fresh, there’s a party, and she sings and Boldwood joins in. Bathsheba’s very aware of this whole game. And that song is wonderful for this specific scene. It’s so fragile and her voice is so fragile.This scene was such a joy to shoot and we found the perfect light for the perfect look.”

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