Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a remarkable character. I have never read the novel by Thomas Hardy that the film adaptation Far From the Madding Crowd, but I might have to if it means getting to revisit the headspace of the wonderful Everdene again. Everdene is independent, strong willed, and has become accustomed to the luxury of being able to live on her own, a rarity in Victorian England. When she inherits her late Uncle’s farm and income, she’s faced with the enormity of being a woman of this era and running a business without a husband. Three men intersect in her life in different phases and sometimes all at once. There’s Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a shepherd who loves her but has very little in fortune to offer her. William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a neighboring bachelor who promises her support for the rest of her life and then, the younger and reckless Frank (Tom Sturridge), a Sergeant who offers her the thrills she seeks.
All three are interesting characters (although I favor the swoon worthy Gabriel), and all three are well acted, but the film is belongs to Everdene and Mulligan gives a charming and winsome performance as the character. Mulligan plays anguish so often, so to see her play a character who’s playful is a welcome change as she once again is able to show off her commanding screen presence. The leading lady’s independence isn’t just admirable from the point of view of the characters but of the viewers as well. She (like the Elizabeth Bennett’s and Jo March’s before her) is fiercely herself, damn anyone else, and she’s the type of leading lady that ropes me in.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg the film strikes a balance between it’s classical leanings and it’s episode romantic center. It’s a period drama through and through with lush shots of the landscape, frequent close ups of the characters faces as they stare longingly at one another, and a dramatic score by Craig Armstrong. Their world is so small, but the film makes it feel much larger. The color is marvelous. The red in Frank’s uniform, the greenery of the farms, Everdene’s purple dress, all of these details bring the film to life more than it already was. The music and the color help elevate a period film from being by the numbers and make it whimsical. This is played up greater still in the moments where danger befalls our characters. These characters are being moved by their own fate if the imagery and omen like moments are to be believed and it allows for some gorgeous imagery. Take for instance a scene where Gabriel madly dashes up a hillside after his sheep run amok.
Not everything worked, namely, Frank’s character was both a bore compared to the other three leads as well as irritating. Sturridge (rightly) played him with a child’s petulance that makes him hard to enjoy. Place him next to Sheen’s rigid Boldwood, enlivening each word he speaks with hidden loneliness and grief, and Gabriel who appears like a classic movie star or great romantic lead, and he’s practically invisible. Needless to say, we spend far too much time with him.
I didn’t expect much from the film having only seen a trailer a few months back, but I was surprised at how much it evoked out of me. Far From the Madding Crowd made me truly care for these characters at the end, Everdene in particular. It was equal parts cinematic while also clearly derivative from literature. The scope was big, the characters present and their chemistry obvious. Like it’s leading lady the film knew how to capture our attention from the moment it began until the credits rolled.
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Film Length: 118 minutes
May 1, 2015 (Limited)
May 8, 2015 (Wide)
Distributor: Fox Searchlight