Far from the Madding Crowd
by George Wolf
Did we need another film adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd? Despite its status as a romantic classic, Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel travels some tedious, predictable ground. The last big screen version followed suit but, to be fair, that was in the late 60s. Can a skillful director, an insightful writer and a sublime cast blow the dust off after nearly five decades?
It starts at the top, with the effortlessly good Carey Mulligan as independent heroine Bathsheba Everdene, who inherits her uncle’s vast estate in the English countryside. She attracts admirers on both extremes of society, but rebuffs marriage proposals from poor, earnest sheep herder Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) and the village’s most eligible bachelor, wealthy William Boldwood (Michael Sheen).
Bathsheba’s passions are finally stirred by the arrogantly douchy Sgt. Troy (Tom Sturridge) but not long after their impetuous marriage, regret comes calling.
It’s an extremely old fashioned love triangle, pared down considerably by director Thomas Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls. Nicholls has experience adapting classics such as Great Expectations and Tess of the D’Ubervilles, and sharp instincts for cutting fat. The story is leaner, with less chance to bog down in melodrama.
Vinterberg, who helmed the gripping drama The Hunt in 2012, delivers sweeping, gorgeous landscapes befitting such a period piece, and frames his able actors with frequent closeups that never go to waste.
Mulligan gives Bathsheba the layers needed to make her human, and Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) makes Gabriel’s strong, silent act easy to root for. But it’s Sheen, even with limited screen time, who steals the show, wringing Boldwood’s repressed emotion from every pore.
Whatever the motivation for revisiting this old standard, Far from the Madding Crowd is a testament to sheer talent uplifting the source material. It may not be most memorable present on the table, but these gift wrappers sure make a good impression.