It seemed that “Far from the Madding Crowd” was one 2015 film that came and went with practically no fanfare. That’s a shame because any movie with Carey Mulligan as its lead is worth talking about. Mulligan is one of the most emotionally earnest actresses working today which is strikingly clear in the two movies she released last year, “Suffragette” and this one.
The film is directed by Thomas Vinterberg whose last film was 2012’s stinging social indictment “The Hunt”. Here he takes the reins of this fresh, new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic 1874 novel. It’s the third time the story has been turned into a feature film and the first since Julie Christie’s 1967 treatment. Vinterberg narrows his focus to give us a much more compact telling of Hardy’s romantic period drama.
It’s set in 19th century rural England and tells the story of a headstrong woman and the trio of men who pursue her hand in marriage. Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdeen (the inspiration for “The Hunger Games” protagonist Katniss Everdeen). She’s an independent hard worker on her Aunt’s small farm when she meets Gabriel Oak (played by Matthias Schoenaerts). He has invested his savings in a healthy patch of land for his sheep farm. He is the first to fall in love with Bathsheba.
A reversal of fortune sees Gabriel selling his farm and hunting for work while Bathsheba leaves her Aunt to claim a huge profitable farm left to her by her uncle. The large farm next to her new property is ran by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Sheen) who is quickly smitten with her. Later a third admirer enters the picture in the form of a charismatic but weaselly soldier played by Tom Sturridge.
David Nicholls handled the screenplay duties and chose to put his focus on the key relationship between Bathsheba and one of her three suitors. It’s a decision that allows for Vinterberg to tell a tighter and more economical story that gives the central romance room to breath and develop. It also allows the actors the time to fully flesh out these characters particularly Mulligan.
There is a hypnotic quality to Mulligan’s acting. She has an effortless honesty that is seen in every detail of her performances. Here it’s found in the layers of humanity lying beneath her character’s tough, confident exterior. But she also shows those slight breaks of vulnerability which never compromise the character. It simply makes her human. Mulligan is the perfect actress to convey it all to us. She can say so much through a slight grin or a subtle roll of her eyes.
Matthias Schoenaerts is also an important part of the film’s success. The Belgian heartthrob is a believable mix of farmland physicality and humble, earnest subservience. You never doubt him. Michael Sheen is also very good giving us a character that undergoes a few subtle transformations. Sturridge gives the only performance that is a bit uneven. He’s not bad but his tendencies to go big doesn’t always serve the scene well.
As you watch “Far from the Madding Crowd” you’ll have a pretty good idea how things are going turn out. But that’s okay because the movie is so well made and the performances are top notch. There is just a great flow to Vinterberg’s version of the Hardy classic and its easy to fall into the beautiful period setting and the simple charm of the story. It also offers another example of Mulligan’s magic as an actress.
VERDICT – 4 STARS
This is currently on HBO as I hope to see it in the coming months as I do like Carey Mulligan though I have heard some very bad things about Tom Sturridge. Then again, I’m not very fond of that guy either.
Mulligan is her usual stellar self and I really liked Schoenaerts. Sturridge was the weaker of the mains.
Definitely check it out.
I’ll have a chance to rent it soon. Nice to know you gave it high marks, Keith.
It’s really good Cindy. It never feels flimsy or false. I believed in the characters and the relationships. Really good stuff.
Off topic–is one of your blindspots in 2016 ‘The Last Picture Show’?
Yep! It sure is. I think it is scheduled for December!
Next December? Oh, rats. I was thinking about featuring Jeff Bridges as a Lucky 13 Film Club topic and I was hoping you would co-host it with me and tie it in to the month you are watching ‘The Last Picture Show’. I had hopes you were watching that film in March or April….
Oh really. Well maybe it will work out where I can do some rearranging. It is one I’m really looking forward to.
Keith, take a look at the recent Lucky 13 Film Club post on The Revenant! http://cindybruchman.com/2016/01/13/the-lucky-13-film-club-the-revenant/
Jeff Bridges is a very popular guy. I bet we could garner a lot of views and comments. I would happily link your full review. All you have to do as a co-host is NOT a review. You are a conversation starter focusing on an aspect of the topic. Then, pose a few questions and check in throughout the day of the 13th and talk to your fans! If you would be willing say for March or April, I would be very happy about that. If not, that’s okay, too, maybe I can grab you in another month….maybe something to do with Bogie.
Oooooooooh! The thought of a Bogart conversation put a huge smile on my face! I feel I know a lot more about him. And guess what, I’m actually going to see The Treasure of the Sierra Madre on the big screen this Wednesday!!!!
🙂 Well then, we should put that into a plan of action. I’m going to go ahead and feature Mr. Bridges for March 13. Maybe you would consider Humphrey in May? What would be the angle? Not Bogart and Becall, that’s been done too much. Bogart and John Huston films? His definitive speech described by Huston as musical? He was the perfect actor for his times 1941-1957. Maybe how so? Any other thoughts?
Bogart/Huston is a great idea. They were such good friends and several of Bogie’s best films were with Huston behind the camera.
Hi Keith, I’d have given this film the same rating as you if it weren’t for Tom Sturridge’s miscasting. I don’t find him charismatic at all in the role which ruins the believability of the story in that I couldn’t believe Batsheba would fall for a man like that. But overall I quite love this movie, esp Mulligan as the heroine. I still think The Hunt is a far superior film from Vinterberg though.
Sturridge was the weak link for sure. But Mulligan and Schoenaerts were superb. I too like The Hunt better. Two strikingly different films yet very good.
Loved the film, glad you watched it!
Me too. I was hooked from the beautiful opening scenes.
I love Mulligan and I thought she was good here, but I kind of raged throughout the entire film. Everything irritated me.
It didn’t help that my own stupidity played into it because I thought the title was “maddening” instead of “madding” for years. Very consistent misreading on my part. lol
LOL! I made the same mistake. Simply glazed over the title. Oops! Interesting reaction though. I definitely wasn’t irritated by it. It was one of those things where you expect a certain thing to happen and then you wait and wait and wait….
This film did not work for me but I did learn some valuable lessons: sheep are more trouble than they’re worth, don’t marry the first man who fingers you in the bushes, if they tell you your husband is dead ask to see the body and if your last name is Robbin it’s a bad idea to name your daughter Fanny
So you’re a sheep-hater? Boooo! 😉
Not really but the sheep in this movie were nothing but trouble!
I know. That dog didn’t help much.
Great review. I will check this out if I come across it sometime!
Thanks Zoe. Not perfect but well worth seeing. And Mulligan is always amazing.
I loved Sheen in this, as I always love sheen, but Mulligan’s character actions were so baffling and stupid to me I actually kept hoping this poor dude that ended with her will just keep walking on away from her, not kiss her 🙂
I actually thought that was how it was going to end. That would’ve been a nice twist.
I just saw this last month and I love it so much! Great review! 🙂
Thanks Kim. It completely caught me by surprise. Big fan!