When my wife Sandy and I go to movie theaters, which is often, we usually go to a restaurant for dinner too. Movie times dictate when we eat. Seems to me that when we both were gainfully employed we’d dine around 7 pm and catch a flick about two hours later. That meant we’d arrive back home at 11:30 or so. I can’t recall exactly why or when that pattern changed a bit, but getting home late at night, and to bed even later, must have set us thinking about schedule alternatives. A sign of aging? Nah, not a chance. In any event, these days we seem to watch maybe one third of our movies in late afternoon, which allows us to dine at a pleasant hour and arrive back at the ranch before 9 pm.
Such was the case this past Friday at the Ambler Theater in downtown Ambler, Pennsylvania. There we settled into our seats for the 4 pm showing of Far From The Madding Crowd, the fourth film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s apparently still-beloved novel, first published in 1874. As far as I can recall, I never read the book nor saw the previous cinematic versions. I’m not a completist, so after watching the latest incarnation of Far I have no plans to visit any of the previous efforts.
Far From The Madding Crowd is by no means a bad movie. I’ll hand it, generously, two out of four stars. But it certainly didn’t floor me. It’s kind of slow, which didn’t put me off. It is also a soap opera, which didn’t rub me too wrong either. Soap operas can be fun. What I think I mainly didn’t enjoy were the lines of dialog that seemed to fall flat, or were poorly captured by the boom operator so that I couldn’t make them out (this English-speaking movie cried out for subtitles now and then). And the transition from scene to scene sometimes needed oiling. Other than that . . .
Set in rural England in the early 1870s, Far From The Madding Crowd concerns one Bathsheba Everdene, a young lady aged 18 or so whose innate charms knock men off their feet. Smart and independent, she is not seeking a husband, however. She does not wish to be stifled by the opposite sex. Politely rejecting two decent suitors, she eventually falls for and ends up marrying nogoodnik Frank Troy, an army sergeant who looks so fine in his uniform that Bathsheba’s latent sexual yearnings are forced to the surface. The movie has many plot twists from start to finish. Wait, this is a spoiler alert: Suffice it to say that in the end all is well, or mostly. Frank Troy exits, and steady and sturdy Gabriel Oak, a shepherd and Bathsheba’s first pursuer, finally captures her heart.
One moment at the very beginning of the film didn’t compute, and I’m still wondering how it got past the screenwriter. In voiceover, Bathsheba says that her parents died when she was young and, as there was no one thereafter to ask, she never knew why they gifted her with her uncommon given name. No one? How about asking her aunt, on whose farm Bathsheba is working as the movie opens. Or how about asking the relative from whom, several scenes later, she inherits a farm.
Oh well, that’s a mere quibble. Let me say that I enjoyed the acting of three of the four leads. That trio is Carey Mulligan (Bathsheba), Matthias Schoenaerts (Gabriel), and Michael Sheen (Mr. Boldwood, a rejected suitor). I didn’t clap for Tom Sturridge’s portrayal of Frank Troy, though. Tom’s pencil-thin mustache and darting eyes brought back images of too many silent movie era villains.
Time to eat. I’ll give three stars to the meal that followed Far, and much of that because of the lovely beer that I discovered. The repast took place in Ambler’s outer limits at the Broad Axe Tavern, where Sandy and I have dined at least 20 times. It’s a gastropub, meaning the food choices extend beyond hamburgers and hot roast beef sandwiches. And, like so many establishments in the Philadelphia region, it carries an incredible number of beers from around the world. That, more than anything, is the draw for me. After studying the beer menu for five minutes, at last I opted for one I’d never before tasted, Franziskaner Weissbier. It is a wheat beer from a German brewery that claims to trace its roots to a Franciscan monastery in 1363. Two thumbs up. Smooth, multi-spicy (pepper, coriander, who knows what else), a tad citrusy. And dig that satisfied monk on the label. Gotta love it.
Broad Axe’s food is good. I went with the crab cake sandwich and my wife ordered the grilled chicken panini. The former was light on filler, heavy on excellent meat, and pan-sautéed. The latter was large and flavorful, its thick slices of rustic Italian bread delicious. Like countless places these days, Broad Axe, not giving a hoot about contributing to America’s collective expanding waistline, accompanies its burgers and sandwiches with fries. But we weren’t in a fries mood, so for an extra two dollars we each substituted a side salad. On the surface there was nothing unusual about this salad, but it was strikingly fresh and crisp, which is not always the case. The bouncy red wine vinaigrette dressing was an ideal host for romaine lettuce, cucumber, red cabbage and feta cheese. Simple ingredients, top-notch outcome.
We had no room for dessert, though. Around 8 pm, our Ambler evening concluded, home we headed.