Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Starring Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen
Based on the classic Thomas Hardy novel, Far From The Madding Crowd follows the life and love of Bathsheba Everdene, as she struggles to prove her worth beyond the mere marriage chattel that Victorian society confines her.
A fortunate inheritance provides Miss Everdene (Carey Mulligan) with the opportunity to prove her own worth as the owner of a farming property. However, life has also thrown complications of the heart her way. Gabriel Oats (Matthias Schoenaerts), a former suitor and confident that after falling on hard times, is working on Everdene’s farm. Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen) is smitten with Everdene after a prank goes awry and has an impeccable social position. Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge) is a cad, but with looks and charm enough to turn Miss Everdene’s head.
Something about Far From The Madding Crowd doesn’t quite click. Despite the sumptuous photography, authentic sets and realistic performances, this never reaches the heights that it should reach, not given all the obvious effort and talent displayed on screen. This is not to say that it is bad There is no doubt that The Madding Crowd is a solid film, it’s just with all that obvious effort it should be great, and there feels like something is holding it back.
In part this may be because of the performances. They are realistic of the era, in that they are very reserved and a little formal. This is understandable, given the context of Hardy’s work as an examination of class and social structure, it is just that to a modern audience this can appear standoffish. To his credit, Vinterberg has this played as naturalistic rather than the heightened pantomime that can infect other period romances, but it still adds a layer of distance between the viewer and the character, making it difficult to form an attachment.
That slight distance is a shame, as there is some fine work being done here. Mulligan nails the central role of Everdene to the masthead, bringing a natural determination and intelligence to the character, and challenging her fellow actors to keep pace. Sheen is probably best in this regard, effortlessly bringing a sense of grief and fragility to Boldwood’s formal manner. Schoenaerts is solid as the doting Oats, always seeming to be contemplating everything he is doing. Weakest by far is Sturridge as the rather underwritten rake, Troy, but in fairness his look alone conveys more of the character than his dialogue ever does. Sturridge is also not helped in this regard by the on-screen chemistry which Schoenaerts and Mulligan share, as it is always there, quietly smouldering in the background, making Everdene’s dalliance with Troy seem even more impulsive and wrong headed.
Vinterberg creates a solid and beautiful adaptation of Hardy’s work. It may not wow as it should, but it does its best to gently woo.