Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

Review #1,188

Director:  Thomas Vinterberg
Cast:  Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen
Plot:  In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  -
Runtime:  119min
Rating:  PG for some sexuality and violence
Distributor:  20th Century Fox

“I'm not going to tell stories just to please you.  You can be sure of that.”

Thomas Hardy's well-studied novel (apparently it was used as an 'O' level’s text back in mid-1970s Singapore) is given another filmic treatment in this period piece by Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg, who famously made the first Dogme film The Celebration (1998) and the Mads Mikkelsen drama The Hunt (2012). 

Bound to draw comparisons with the 1967 three-hour classic directed by John Schlesinger and starring Julie Christie, the Vinterberg version is very much a contemporary studio piece – compressed into two hours, with some underdeveloped scenes, but covered up with a polished glean.  I have not read the book, but it sure feels like a faithful adaptation of Hardy's work.  Even if it isn't, at the very least, watching the film feels like you are seeing the book unfold, for better or worse. 

Far from the Madding Crowd will please fans of the genre, though it has been accused by some critics to be costume drama porn.  Well, too much beauty is not a bad thing, and I must say the film is rather breathtakingly shot, with emphasis on the natural landscape (filmed mostly on location in Dorset, UK), and the stunning costumes. 

Carey Mulligan, no stranger to period pieces (see The Great Gatsby, 2013), is elegant and alluring as Bathsheba Everdene, the headstrong and independent woman who finds three suitors eyeing to marry her.  They are men of varying social classes and personas.  It is not in the interest of this review to describe how they are and what they do, but each one – a sheep farmer, a wealthy bachelor and a reckless soldier – becomes attached to Bathsheba in various ways.  The supporting cast who play the three men – Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge respectively – give decent individual performances, though Sturridge feels rather miscast. 

As far as costume dramas go, this is fairly decent, but the storytelling feels unbalanced; it cuts a number of corners narratively, sometimes obviously through questionable editing.  As a result, this feels like a modern summary of Schlesinger’s more accomplished work. 

Vinterberg has not been consistent enough throughout his career, but he seems to have gotten his mojo back with Submarino (2010) and The Hunt.  His first major studio film to date, Far from the Madding Crowd is not particularly outstanding, but it will give him the platform to comfortably select between prestige studio pictures and his own independent cinema in the next phase of his career. 

Verdict:  For better or worse, it feels like you are watching a book unfold in this beautiful if unbalanced adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s well-studied novel.


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