A review of a beautiful, romantic adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel “Far from the Madding Crowd,” starring Carey Mulligan. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
There’s a beautiful sense of place in Thomas Vinterberg’s “Far from the Madding Crowd,” filmed in Dorset in the southwest region of England and set in the later 19th century. This is Thomas Hardy country, named Wessex in the British novelist’s works and marked by endless, gently rolling hills and fields of an almost feverish green, punctuated by sheep farms and views of the sea. You can smell the faintly salty air, hear the sheep’s insistent bleating, sense the coolness of a spring dew, feel the sharpness of the wind as the seasons change.
It’s a lovely setting — and character — for a film that’s ultimately a romance between people whose lives and fates are shaped by that landscape and the animals dwelling upon it. Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), when we first meet her, is a young woman living with relations and at ease with the land; we see her languorously sprawled over her horse’s back, utterly relaxed. A handsome young sheep farmer, Gabriel Oak (Mathias Schoenaerts), soon proposes — offering her simple pleasures: a piano, flowers and birds, a frame for cucumbers. She declines and shortly afterward moves away.
Upon her return, years later, circumstances are different: Bathsheba has inherited her uncle’s farm, and is determined to run it as an independent woman. “It is my intention to astonish you all,” she tells the surprised workers. Besides Gabriel, two other men enter her life: the older, wealthy bachelor Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and the rakish soldier Sgt. Troy (Tom Sturridge), whose cautious mustache is as clipped as his emotions. All three are drawn to Bathsheba, who is struggling to discover her own identity. “It is difficult for a woman to express her feelings,” she — and Hardy — says at one point, “in a language chiefly created by men to express theirs.”
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Far from the Madding Crowd,’ with Carey Mulligan, Mathias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple, Jessica Barden. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, from a screenplay by David Nicholls, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy. 119 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence. Several theaters.
Wisely adapted by novelist David Nicholls (“Us,” “One Day”), “Far from the Madding Crowd” has the elegance of a Merchant-Ivory film, and yet feels utterly real. The sets and clothes feel lived-in; the weariness and pleasures of the farmers’ lives are palpable. And the cast is a joy, particularly Schoenaerts’ charming Gabriel (who has, as Hardy memorably wrote in the book’s opening paragraph, a smile in which “the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears”), Sheen’s wistfully hopeful Boldwood and Mulligan’s spirited yet soulful Bathsheba — who frequently doesn’t need language to tell us her own, heroic story.
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