FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (UK|USA/119mins/12A)
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Starring Carey Mulligan, Tom Sturridge, Michael Sheen, Matthias Schoenaerts, Juno Temple.

THE PLOT: In Victorian England, the headstrong and fiercely independent Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mullugan) attracts, and has to choose between three very different suitors; Gabriel Oak (Mattias Schoenaerts), William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). Bathsheba’s decision is not an easy one for her to make, and has long lasting consequences.

THE VERDICT: Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD follows in the footsteps of the 1967 film starring Julie Christie and Terrence Stamp. In this incarnation, Carey Mulligan takes the lead role, and does surprisingly well as the feisty Bathsheba, bringing a fire and gutsiness to the character that we have rarely seen from the actress in the past.

Matthias Schoenaerts is not particularly convincing as a West Country farmer, but what he lacks in accent, he makes up for in energy, making Gabriel Oak a watchful and kind man. As well as this, he and Mulligan have great chemistry on screen together. Michael Sheen has a smaller role as William Boldwood, an established man who has a deep affection for Bathsheba, but he delivers a fantastically nuanced performance, and easily commands the screen. Tom Sturridge rounds out the love triangle (love square!?) as Sergeant Frank Troy, a man who falls in love with Bathsheba as soon as he lays eyes on her. Sturridge does well in playing a cad, but there are times when his character feels like less of a force of nature, and more of an petulant child. Juno Temple turns up briefly as Fanny Robbin, who is more of a catalyst than a character.

David Nicholls’ screenplay pulls the romance of the film to the fore, while allowing the story space for characters to become tortured, heartbroken or loyal. The dialogue is economical, but carefully written, and the screenplay is evenly paced, giving us a chance to get to know enough about these characters to care about them.

Thomas Vinterberg directs carefully, giving the film a tense and romantic feel, and coaxing strong performances from his actors, making the characters vulnerable, loyal, stubborn and as rounded as we could hope for. As well as this, the film plays with the notion that choosing the partner that excites us, is not necessarily the path to true and ever lasting happiness. There are times when the film takes seemingly dramatic turns, and seems to run out of steam; it soon gains its footing back, but never quite recovers from the narrative wobbles. Vinterberg is aided by the beautiful cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen, which plays with colour and light, making the film at once ethereal and utterly grounded.

In all, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is a strong adaptation of a classic novel. Some of the cast do better than others; Mulligan brings some much needed strength to the character, Schoenaerts shines as the quiet but loyal Oak, but both are let down by Sturridge’s superficial and slight Troy. Vinterberg shines a light on the dichotomies of love, and brings Hardy’s romantic drama to the screen with grace and style.

RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Far From The Madding Crowd
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.5Ethereal yet grounded
  • filmbuff2011

    Previously adapted by John Schlesinger in a well-respected 1967 film that featured Julie Christie, do we really need another version of Thomas Hardy’s doomed romantic drama Far From The Madding Crowd? The answer would appear to be yes, on the basis of this measured and respectful new take. Rural Dorset,1870. Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a proud, strong-willed and independent young woman who runs her own farm. The idea of marriage doesn’t appeal to her, something which surprises shepherd Gabriel (Mathias Schoenaerts), who has taken a fancy to her. There’s a strong bond between them, but she resists the idea of anything more than a friendship. Gabriel isn’t the only potential suitor though. There are two others – rich but somewhat dull bachelor William (Michael Sheen) and the dashing but caddish soldier Francis (Tom Sturridge). The latter seduces her in ways that the other two can’t and she soon marries him. But in true Hardy fashion, the path to true love is never easy and tragedy awaits… Danish director Thomas Vinterberg doesn’t seem like the obvious choice to direct a classic piece of English literature. He worked on the Dogme 95 movement before recently turning his hand to more mature films like the acclaimed The Hunt. He brings a refreshing eye to what had the potential to be another stuffy English heritage period piece. This is a film that could be set in the present time and still work effectively, so easily identifiable is Bathsheba as a fully-formed character deserving of love, loyalty and respect. The ever-dependable Mulligan gives an excellent performance here, as we follow Bathsheba’s journey from a woman who has never been kissed to a woman of the world, even if that world is confined to the countryside where whispers can be scandalous. There’s not a false note in any of the other performances, with Sheen particularly effective and moving as a man who never gives up on his pursuit of Bathsheba. The sun-lit cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen is gorgeous too. It may be 50 minutes shorter than the 1967 version, but the essence of Hardy has been retained, successfully distilled by a combination of sterling performances, solid direction and a satisfying final scene that is natural, rather than forced. A very good new version of Far From The Madding Crowd, that confidently moves out of the shadows of the 1967 version and marks out its own territory. ****

  • emerb

    John Schlesinger’s 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel,” Far from the Madding Crowd”, is certainly a hard act to follow but Danish director Thomas Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls do a good job with this most recent of 4 previous versions. Set in Victorian England’s West Country this complicated romance is a faithful adaptation to the novel, boasting a solid cast and impeccable production.

    Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a resourceful, resilient young woman, working on her aunt’s farm in Dorset with no particular means until she suddenly become elevated in station and circumstance after she inherits her Uncle’s 100 acre farm, a once proud estate which has fallen into disrepair. Here, she finds herself being courted by three very different men, but only one who adored her before her rise in fortune. Firstly there is the sincere, industrious shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) – a ruggedly handsome but simple man who abruptly asks her to marry him. A startled Bathsheba immediately rejects him and he reluctantly returns to his work on the land. After he suffers misfortune when he loses his flock to an inexperienced sheep dog, he finds himself working on her farm where he must suffer in silence as he watches her half-heartedly flirt
    with other men. Next in line is wealthy, serious, next-door farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) – a lonely middle-aged bachelor who similarly rashly proposes. Then onto the scene comes a dashing soldier in a red trim coat – the impetuous, conceited Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) who sweeps her off her feet with his stylish swordplay. After she succumbs to his charms, they marry in haste. Soon the relationship sours as he runs through the money, contributes nothing to the running of the estate and still harbours feelings for runaway servant girl Fanny (Juno Temple).

    The acting is extremely good and given the challenge of portraying a headstrong, independent woman like Bathsheba, Carey Mulligan succeeds with an intelligent and engaging performance. She has added an appealing wistfulness to her fresh-faced Bathsheba. Hers is a grounded young lady. She is not coy and never insincere. Yet she is tough minded and cannot be sweet talked or negotiated with once her mind is made up. Bathsheba makes some incomprehensible choices in her life but the charismatic Mulligan keeps us believing that she is doing what feels correct and is prompted by her heart. The men are well cast and convincing, in particular the physical, modest and brooding Schoenaerts who remains doggedly devoted and protective (apart from his dreadful attempt at a proper accent!). Sheen also gives an excellent supporting turn in his brief appearances as the man who becomes fatally and tragically infatuated with Bathsheba after she sends him an insincere Valentine card. The talented Sturridge certainly looks the part and manages to convey his egocentric insincerity very well.

    “Far From The Madding Crowd” is an interesting and accomplished production. I thought it was an attractive, lavish and lustrous and it ticked all the right boxes for me. The magnificent landscape setting is visually appealing – the rugged countryside is beautiful, rolling mountains, large country estates, seaside cliffs, fiery sunsets and sweeping wide open spaces. The costumes (including Bathsheba’s impressive line of hats!) add to the sense of a hard working society where function outweighs glamour. Fans of Downton Abbey will relish it and so I see it appealing largely to female audiences who are happy to be swept up in a well thought out romantic drama. I see this movie generating good box office returns over the coming months.