Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
dir. Thomas Vinterberg
written by: David Nicholls
starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple
3.75 out of 4 stars
Familiar with the story solely by name, Far from the Madding Crowd appealed primarily to my attraction to petticoats and Carey Mulligan’s violin accompanied voice. This unusually scheduled romance release based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel gained not only more money than the usual non-autumnal period piece, it debuted along Avengers and steadily rose with increased distribution, eventually outpacing larger releases such as Hot Pursuit, the hot mess I had forgotten until I started back tracking through box office records.
Far from the Madding Crowd captures Bathsheba Everdene in the midst of a farm inheritance and a love triangle. A fortunately timed death of a relative bequeaths a sizable farm and the employment of numerous town folk to a young woman appealing to raise out of her deep country life of wasting her ample education. Enter three bachelors of equivocal eligibility: rugged former sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), stately William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and persistent soldier Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). As each man vies for her attention, the luminous Bathsheba attempts to balance her livelihood and her independence.
Mulligan continues her breadth of work with a breathtaking lead for a classic tale. Adding to an already impressive collection of roles ranging from foolhardy, intellectual teen (An Education) to drama drenched lounge singer (Shame), she has built more presence as literature-come-to-life heroine. Possessing a resistant ladylike demeanor, Mulligan endures all of the mansplaining but betrays none of the Mulligan. Between this one and Suffragette, her prominence in her field has exceeded her peers.
Through a multitude of advances, jeers, and jabs from the men in her life, Bathsheba allows for both quality material and ample room for personalization. Mulligan creates such force as Bathsheba, crawling into sheep baths and commanding a farm estate, hoe in hand. Her physical performance is on point, so in the moment, the British Cotillard. Emotional strain is so vivid in those shining eyes, that scenes involving her distraught–a wake comes most prominently to mind–connect with one personally. Her voice is like a bell, strong and rhythmic, allows her the most presence of any British actress her age. Steadfastly stating to Martin Sheen’s character, this man known for playing Prime Minister and hardened doctors, “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs,“ defines her character and the layers of emotions she emotes in a matter of a compound sentence.
The men surrounding her do their best to give her ulcers. Matthias Schoenaerts is a hard working man, played with Schoenaerts usual natural appeal, who possesses none of the stability this educated and well-raised woman desires. One desires more sensuality due to his likability, but in a prudent position such as Bathsheba’s, happiness and great sex aren’t necessarily priorities with marriage. Martin Sheen is a rich, older gentleman, enamoured with Bathsheba, and he is stern but friendly, pleasant as long as he gets what he wants. Character with far too much money and not quite the charm to back it up. Tom Sturridge plays troubled soldier boy with a despicable air about him. He is easily hates, and does it with a malicious charm I have to appreciate.
This movie exceeds simply the acting quality in its impressive nature. As a costume drama/period piece, this movie is ripe for Merchant-Ivory style debauchery! Filmed using director Thomas Vinterberg’s longtime collaborating director of photography Charlotte Bruus Christensen, the landscapes are agape with color, capturing the beauty of the countryside, and her eye for focal points in emotional turmoil, I see the talent of Seamus McGarvey in this one. The indoor scenes grab as much beauty as the external world, filling every scene with perfectly tempered adornments, never distracting but only enhancing each scene. Costume designer Janet Patterson, the helmer and hemmer behind The Piano and Bright Star, shows the most promise for widespread attention, with so many fantastic looks for Mulligan and such natural looking costumes on the townfolk. The purple striped, umbrella wielding costume around 1:17 is a gorgeous piece apt for Georges Seurat portraiture.
This film is an English language debut for Thomas Vinterburg, best known for the The Hunt, a Foreign Language Oscar nominee from Denmark. The screenplay is by David Nicholls, a novelist best known for romantic fiction. Putting together this adaptation with more precision than a seasoned veteran of the corset-porn variety, Vinterburg and Nicholls marvel with the handsome film they created with a highly talented production team and magnificent cast. Strong steps in their careers have been presented with well earned success.