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Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)
Dir: Thomas Vinterburg
Written by: David Nicholls
Produced by: Andrew Macdonald, Anita Overland, Allon Reich, Joanne Smith.
Currently Playing At: Aksarben Cinema, Film Streams at Ruth Sokolof Theater, Marcus Majestic Cinema of Omaha, AMC Oakview Plaza 24
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge.
I hadn’t read Far from the Madding Crowd before going to go see it so I was a bit concerned that I’d miss details watching the movie. I ended up looking at the Wikipedia summary a few hours before going, which sort of helped but broke my heart as somebody that is striving to read more books. The film itself is really quite enjoyable, I was going in expecting to like it because the film had a fantastic cast filled with actors I’ve really enjoyed with a director (Thomas Vinterberg) whose work I hadn’t seen prior to this, but who seemed to have a very credible resume. Honestly, I liked the film more than I was expecting to.
Bathsheba Everdene, played by Carey Mulligan, runs a small time farm. One day she is approached by one Gabriel Oak, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, the villain from The Drop. He proposes marriage to her, but she turns him down, desiring independence. Her uncle dies, which leads her to acquire considerable wealth and success, leading Gabriel to come work for her. She is approached by two men, one Sgt. Troy, who seeks to marry her for her money, and the other, an older gentleman coming apart at the seams named Mr. Boldwood, played by Michael Sheen. The film follows Bathsheba as she is cutthroat in her efforts to stay afloat.
I like this character, and I like this performance. Carey Mulligan has been great for a long time but she’s rarely been as commanding as she is here. It’s unfortunate that this movie came out in the summer, otherwise an awards campaign could have easily been built around her sublime performance. This is not to say that this is necessarily out of the question, just that it will be harder now. Bathsheba’s desire for independence is amiable, she is a woman who is ahead of the times.
Far From the Madding Crowd deserves credit for actively inciting my interest in the material. An adaptation of a novel like this could easily become a very grueling, dry sit but director Vinterburg offers the viewer a feast for the eyes.
The cinematography is magnificent. It’s done by this young lady whom Vinterburg has collaborated with on several of his other projects, Charlotte Bruus Christensen. There were several moments in this movie where I thought shots looking almost like paintings by great artists of times gone by. Vinterburg wisely uses a lot of natural lighting, which contributes to the film’s atmosphere.
Of the three men wooing Bathsheba, I thought the best had to have been Sheen’s Boldwood. He wasn’t necessarily the most likable of the bunch, of course not, but Sheen’s performance is sublime. He plays Boldwood’s steadily decaying sanity subtly, the signs are small, and Sheen’s expressions don’t give you a lot of signs, but you can tell there’s something a bit off about the guy. Sheen is a great actor and is steadily getting better, he’s good on MASTERS OF SEX and he was the best part of the final TWILIGHT film.
What does the film have to say about women’s roles at the time and women’s roles now? That boils down to her relationship with the three men courting her. Sgt. Troy is not unlike a frat boy, albeit he precedes frat boys by well over a century. Boldwood also has many characteristics we see in men today, he often times throughout the film feels as though Bathsheba owes him something, this inevitable having tragic consequences. And Gabriel is a male character that was written by many authors at the time, the stoic handsome stranger who argues with the female protagonist and is a little rough around the edges but is ultimately the best fit. He’s not unlike Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. Whether or not this character exists in the real world is a topic open for debate, but at the time period, with men who just did not care, this kind of empathetic portrayal was a revelation.
Far From the Madding Crowd requires a bit of historical context, but it doesn’t require as much as one might think. It is a well-paced movie with great acting and the best cinematography I’ve seen so far this year. It seems like something you’d hate, but you may be surprised.