Far from the Madding Crowd
Evincing a modern sensibility despite its period setting Thomas Vinterberg’s take on Far from the Madding Crowd feels more fun-filled than any Thomas Hardy novel has a right to be; yet the film’s freshness works. Madding Crowd is the story of a woman struggling for self determination in a period where such a thing existed for only the wealthy few. And virtually none of those were women. Bathsheba Everdene, a discerning but modestly situated young lady unexpectedly finds herself made independent upon the death of a wealthy uncle. Like all Hardy characters good fortune requires the recipient to then wade through an extensive morass of hard(y)ship. Wooed from all sides—as any such interesting a woman probably would be—Miss Everdene finds herself ensnared in a relationship web which can only end in tragedy. Except Vinterberg and writer David Nicholls’ retelling comes with a spoonful of sugar to help the plethora of tragic ironies go down.
I came at this Hardy adaptation unversed—having not read the source novel nor seen the praised ’67 Schlesinger version—but Vinterberg’s realisation has an unstarched vivacity not always present in filmed classics. This is driven primarily by astute casting. Carey Mulligan’s Everdene simply sparks with life and she is well matched by her various suitors. Matthias Schoenaerts as unassuming shepherd Gabriel Oak and Michael Sheen as retiring neighbouring landowner William Boldwood both bring depth and feeling to their complementary characters. Tom Sturridge is the least convincing as Sergeant Francis Troy, the young army officer who sweeps Bathsheba off her feet. I found it difficult to see Mulligan’s Miss Everdene being overcome by this Troy’s array of personal charms, but so it is and the surrounding storylines play out reasonably well despite this mild lack of chemistry.
Certainly not the least of its strengths is that the film looks grand on the big screen. Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography (who also shot Vinterberg’s last two films The Hunt and Submarino) presents warm, earthy tones with occasional high contrast splashes of colour for key impressions. The film makes smart use of light and shade, camera movement, and framing to underscore character relationships and, in particular, perceptions of power balance between the principal players (such as an angled perspective pan-shot of Bathsheba at a significant moment looking up the stairs at Boldwood mirroring his perception of his role as her ‘saviour’). Craig Armstrong’s score does its job without really imposing on the audience. A comfortable backdrop; just rousing enough without arousing undue interest or ire.
This latest iteration of Far from the Madding Crowd may lack the bite of some recent English lit adaptations (such as Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights and Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre) but with strong performances cut to good effect, Vinterberg’s film proves a toothsome romantic drama if seasoned somewhat lighter than you might expect of Hardy fare.
Rating: M Sex scenes.