STARS: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge
DIRECTOR: Thomas Vinterberg
They don't make 'em like that anymore, I found myself thinking, after being swept up in this second film adaptation of the classic Thomas Hardy novel. The latest rendering of the tale is greater than the sum of its parts--with four accomplished performances from the lead actors, exquisite cinematography, and a captivating music score from Craig Armstrong--all combining in just the right measure to make Far From The Madding Crowd a masterful achievement.
Carey Mulligan is the spunky Bathsheba Everdene, and the only misgiving I might have about casting her in the lead role is that she's rather a wisp of a woman, and in the nineteenth century methinks it may have been more commonplace for such a headstrong lass to carry a little more meat on her bones, which no doubt would have made it easier to "throw her weight around" with the men. That aside, Mulligan is a superb Bathsheba, who comes to Weatherby as the mistress of a manor-house and finds herself awash in suitors. There is Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a shepherd in her employ; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a well-mannered gentleman; and the dashing military man--but certified head case--Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge).
Thomas Hardy knew how to weave a tale--with the elements of fate, chance, and circumstance playing out in highly dramatic fashion. And if the story is to be believed as a reflection of the times, then folks didn't date or get to know each other much socially before jumping in with both feet. You'd meet a lady, and the next time you saw her you might be asking her to marry you! I found myself thinking wistfully about all the expense and angst a poor guy could spare himself if the same quaint attitude were prevalent today. You pop the question early on...and get a thumbs up or thumbs down...or maybe a maybe-- but at least you've got something to go on. Not like today, where the participants in most relationships are so confused they can't tell if they're coming or going!
Maybe that's the crux of why I was taken in by Far From The Madding Crowd.
Yes, indeed. A lot of romantic intrigue can happen on a sheep farm. (And not just with the sheep!) Far From The Madding Crowd is, in my view, cinematic escapism in the finest sense of the word. The scenery is breath-taking, the acting top notch. And I daresay Michael Sheen (of "Masters of Sex" fame) will be nominated for a Best Actor in a Supporting Role award next Oscar season. Because it's Thomas Hardy writing this tale and not Quentin Tarantino, there is very little bloodshed. And yet you can cut the tension with a sword, as swashbuckling psychopath Frank Troy does.
Does anybody remember a 1967 Swedish film titled Eliva Madigan? This film had the same lush cinematography and expansive score. It swept me willingly into a different time, a different place. I hated the villain and rooted unabashedly for the hero. It's a shame more movies based on literary classics aren't made. It was such a relief to see a film with no cell phones or madly texting heroines.
If I have anything bad to say, it's about Hardy's title. I had to look up the word "madding" (1. acting madly or senselessly; insane; frenzied: a quiet place far from the madding crowd. 2. making mad: a madding grief.)
Grade: A +