By Regina Weinreich
La Grenouille experienced a British invasion yesterday for a lunch celebrating the film Far From the Madding Crowd, based on Thomas Hardy’s beloved 19th century novel. Carey Mulligan, currently starring in Skylight on Broadway, plays Bathsheba Everdene, a strong-willed and occasionally wrong-headed heroine, a pre-feminist, you could call her. Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts portrays Gabriel Oak, the pre-feminist hunk who protects her. He is loyal, kind, brave, talented, hard-working, and dreamy. When I asked Schoenaerts, memorable for his performance opposite Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone what he thought of this character, he enthused, “I can learn from him. I want to BE him.”
The film shares with another fine recently released period film, Effie Gray: the actor Tom Sturridge. In FFMC, he’s a soldier, a lout, who briefly wins Bathsheba’s heart, “beneath her” in Gabriel’s estimation. She marries him anyway, bringing on a set of misfortunes. In Effie Gray, about the wife of essayist and art historian John Ruskin, Sturridge portrays the sensitive artist with whom Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning), another pre-feminist, truly connects.
The luncheon being a Peggy Siegal affair, Amanda Foreman (who goes by Bill) interviewed Mulligan and Schoenaerts, with Finding Neverland’s Matthew Morrison, Julie Taymor, Tina Brown, Stefano Tonchi attending. Sir Peter Westmacotts, British Ambassador to the United States and Danny Lopez, British Consul General in New York, introduced her, noting her contribution to literature. Everyone always asks how Foreman does it, writing her books, managing a household including her five children, and hosting House of Speakeasy which that night would convene at City Winery featuring authors Elif Shafak, Tom Robb Smith, and House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon. By working all the time, she says.