Far From The Madding Crowd
A heart-fluttering adaptation rich with a sterling cast
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What To Expect
Jane Austen’s novels often revolving around romance, poverty and inheritance could have saturated the classics era enough on their own, let alone the writings of the Brontë sisters and some of Dickens too. But each of these authors’ ability to create a sense of independence in their works is precisely what shot their novels from the 1800’s into a must-read classics list that celebrates their literary achievements over 2 centuries later, and Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd was no different.
Now in an era of recreating the books we have read into films, and retelling the stories we have all heard, director Thomas Vinterberg took up the herculean task of adding individualism to yet another adaptation of Hardy’s novel. And boy! Did this turn out to be different indeed.
What’s It About
Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a strong-headed, independent woman in Victorian England. Living near poverty she arrives at her aunt’s farm, where the neighbouring shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) takes a liking to her and proposes. Saying she values her independence too much, Bathsheba refuses.
When the two next meet, their fortunes have reversed as Bathsheba has inherited her uncle’s farmhouse, and Gabriel is in search for employement. However, her wealth draws more proposals from two more promising suitors, her wealthy middle-aged neighbour William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and the charismatic young seargant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge).
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
In a nutshell, Thomas Vinterberg and his stellar international crew have made this first-class adaptation look like a very simple task that they were very comfortable doing, which is quite remarkable. Recreating the 19th century life in England gives the team in charge of the sets and costumes full marks for their intricately done job.
There is little demonstration of creativity visible in the manner in which the story is told, but that has only made David Nicholls’s screenplay a faithful account despite seeing some significant trims. One can only choose for oneself how to perceive it – simple and straightforward, or plain and uninteresting. Nicholls, who also wrote director Mike Newell’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, centers the plot more around Bathsheba’s egocentric personality development than her love triangle, which is a rather refreshing watch for a film of such genre.
Shot in the breathtaking countryside, and as is expected of a Victorian-era film, ‘Madding Crowd‘ cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (who also cinematographed director Vinterberg’s critically acclaimed The Hunt) could have utilised the scenic beauty with a little more finesse. Needless to say that the higher quantity of seemingly static shots could still be justified to create the feeling of virtually being inside the book – because that’s how it felt at times! Despite that notion, ‘Madding Crowd‘ does not feel emotionally involving. And that’s quite interesting, because it is not boring either!
To Perform or Not to Perform
When speaking to her subordinates at the newly inherited farmhouse, a statuesque Bathsheba in the voice of Carey Mulligan says, “It is my intention to astonish you all,” with a shimmer of confidence that you can almost feel penetrating your skin. Astonish us she does, as Oscar-nominee Mulligan (An Education) takes on the reins of a character galloping through a challenging emotional trajectory with great prudence. She strikes an interesting chord with all three of her suitors, Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead) at the helm of it with another fine display of rugged charisma and the “bruised masculinity” that has won him much praise in the past.
The unquestionably talented and award-winning Michael Sheen is second to none as William Boldwood, his repressive enamour of Bathsheba often making hearts melt, as his provides some incredible laughter cues with his sincere and gentlemanly pursuit of her. Alongside him, Tom Sturridge’s rakish portrayal of a debonair young seargant Troy gets to steal the show with his courtship of Bathsheba after a display of swordsmanship that will have you skip a breath.
The Verdict: Maybe!
If costume dramas are not your cup of tea, ‘Madding Crowd‘ may not bode well for a good movie watch. However, for those of us who are open to the refreshing of evergreen classics whilst retaining authenticity, ‘Madding Crowd‘ is worth having a look at. If you have read the original novel, you will be pleasantly surprised with some minor tweaks that make the story more character-driven than it originally was with less kernels of corny and romance drama for a change.
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