Far from the Madding Crowd full movie review - D.W. Griffith Would've Been Proud
I'm not sure I can explain why I was so profoundly affected by Far from the Madding Crowd (2015), any more than I can successfully explain why I was compelled to buy a ticket to see the film in the first place.
Perhaps I saw it because I suspected that with this film the movie-going experience for once might be more of a legitimate, genuine artistic challenge than a soulless business transaction.
Produced by BBC Films and distributed in the US by Fox Searchlight, Far from the Madding Crowd was a movie I'd been starving to see without even knowing it. Adapted by David Nicholls from the 1874 Thomas Hardy novel of the same title and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, the picture has a relaxed and naturally rhythmic pace more suggestive of waves washing ashore than seconds ticking on a clock. Interesting and mostly unexpected plot developments occur at intervals appropriate to mostly-faithful adaptation of a literary work originally published chapter-by-chapter, in serial form, in a British periodical.
It speaks highly of the filmmakers that having read the Thomas Hardy source material?years ago, in a college literature class?I still found myself being surprised by some of the twists and turns of the story. This picture is like Merchant/Ivory without the fuss.
Briefly, the film encompasses the adventures of comely and independent young Bathsheba Everdene?yes, the character was an acknowledged inspiration for the popular Hunger Games heroine. Bathsheba wants to succeed in a man's profession, in a man's world. In this respect, Bathsheba seems fairly contemporary. Fortunately or unfortunately Bathsheba can't seem to help attracting the amorous attentions of a succession of men, approximately 66% of whom do not have her best interests at heart.
Photographed with loving attention to rustic images and muted tones and hues, misty mornings and firelit evenings, the picture succeeds in transporting the viewer and persuading him that what is presented here is an accurate depiction of another time and place. I was surprised to find myself longing to visit there. I still do.
And the actors mostly perform admirable justice to the Hardy novel. Actress Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba is a force of nature, challenging the weathered men on the farm at one point that she intends to astonish them by being in the fields before they're out of bed and still be at work long after they're asleep at night. It's one of the picture's high points when the shepherds and farmhands, jokingly and with good nature, challenge Bathsheba to climb into the mud pit with them to help wash the sheep. And Bathsheba accepts the challenge, happily and with enthusiasm, without an instant of hesitation.
Pretty rather than beautiful or lovely and rather resembling a more pensive and less-effervescent young Sally Field, to the viewer unfamiliar with Hardy's work it might be confusing that so many men are so quickly drawn to Everdene, but Mulligan eventually captures the point handily: She leads with her spirit, and that spirit grows on you.
As Gabriel Oaks, Bathsheba's primary suitor, actor Matthias Schoenaerts is a stolid, laconic but not lurking countenance who, except for one key scene, misses the wry and quiet humor of the character in Hardy's original novel. Still, the actor generates as much of a heartbeat as necessary, particularly during another key scene in which Oaks argues with Bathsheba. During that argument, the language is so rich and beautiful that with lesser actors the aggression might well have come across as actors shouting lines of dialogue at each other. Between Mulligan and Schoenaerts the exchange seems perfectly natural, and eminently believable.
As William Boldwood, Bathsheba's older and more affluent suitor, Michael Sheen is all quirks and twitches and ticks?it looks like his costume itches. Sheen's the only actor here who seems vaguely out of place. In some of Sheen's best performances?as David Frost, say, or Tony Blair?he bases his characterizations on clever and canny impersonations of actual personalities. In this film he plays his character in a manner rather reminiscent of Anthony Hopkins' performance in The Remains of the Day: Sheen's Boldwood is so buttoned-up and unaccustomed to his emotional yearnings that he seems mentally unbalanced, trembling his lid prior to flipping it.
Tom Sturridge relishes his appearance as Sergeant Francis Troy, although the character seems, as in the novel, to have stepped in from an entirely different literary work. Ostensibly stood up at the altar by his true sweetheart, the Sergeant turns his attentions to Bathsheba, and stirs an itch south of her navel with his dashing appearance and colorful military uniform. Sturridge as Troy practically twirls his mustache and sneers his lines. Should Manhunt, James Swanson's superb chronicle of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, ever be adapted into a motion picture, Tom Sturridge would be an ideal choice for the role of John Wilkes Booth.
Screenwriter Nicholls and director Vinterberg actually improve upon Hardy's ending, accomplishing in one brief, charming, and unexpectedly playful scene what Hardy required two entire chapters of dry, anti-climactic exposition to do. In the novel, Hardy seemed almost to be apologizing for the resolution. I approved of Nicholls' condensed version?Hardy removed the heart and soul from the denouement. It was at that point in the film, the ending, that I ultimately appreciated how richly I'd enjoyed the picture.
It's a real shame Vinterberg's new version of Far from the Madding Crowd wasn't able to establish a more secure beachhead among the host of CGI-laden film fare this summer. I'd like to have seen the film again, possibly more than once, but by the time I ventured back the picture was gone, out of the local theaters. I'll look forward to happily seeking the disc when it's available. Far from the Madding Crowd is an artwork D.W. Griffith would've been justly proud of.