Kyle J. Steenblik

Far from the Madding Crowd is Classic, Solid Storytelling

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4 stars out of 5Far from the Madding Crowd
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
Screenplay by: David Nicholls
Far From The Madding CrowdBased on: Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) by Thomas Hardy
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence

Far from the Madding Crowd is a classic British novel, and has seen numerous film adaptations, not all adaptations are made equal, and this is one that stands out from the rest.  A rich story, thick with the flavor of the age in which it was written, could easily become a film overburdened with history, and loyalty to the original text.  Director Thomas Vinterberg kept this film from succumbing to these pitfalls, while screenwriter David Nicholls kept the language from stagnating into a dry period piece.

The prominence of British Victorian female empowerment was such that it easily reverberated with a contemporary female audience, without alienating the male audience.  Given the subject, and the fact that the story is a romance, the role gender played was refreshingly minimal, while simultaneously being the primary plot point of the narrative.  That may sound a little confusing, because, in a way, it is.  I was expecting much more emphasis on the fact that Bathsheba Everdene was running a farm, a business, and a household in the Victorian English country and that is something that is just not done.  There seemed to be very little pushback on this at all, in fact, most characters in the film didn’t appear to give half a damn about the fact that she was in fact, a woman.  With that dealt with so effectively, what we had left was character development, and the expert construction of a classic story.  It was beyond refreshing.

Based on the literary classic by Thomas Hardy, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is the story of independent, beautiful and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), who attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer, captivated by her fetching willfulness; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a handsome and reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. This timeless story of Bathsheba’s choices and passions explores the nature of relationships and love – as well as the human ability to overcome hardships through resilience and perseverance.

Courtesy Fox Searchlight

Matthias Schoenaerts, whom I am going to call the European Jake Gyllenhaal, played a key role in keeping the film moving steadily through the detailed narrative.  He played the part of Gabriel Oak with a soft confidence that only led to the charisma of the character, and pushing the audience want nothing but the best for Gabriel.  While Carey Mulligan was unspeakably charming as Bathsheba Everdene, she played the part of a wild Victorian woman, or as we know them today, normal women.  Mulligan, playing the part that could have easily been portrayed as brash and cold portrayed Bashsheba as kind, warm hearted, and fiercely independent.  With Mulligan’s performance in this film, she reminded me of a young Maggie Smith, a compliment I sincerely stand by.

Were I to change anything about this film it would be the often accelerated pacing.  There are several moments we jump ahead in time, how far ahead is never quite stated, and sometimes it can be a little disorienting.  I was left wondering for a moment if we had just moved through three or four different days because Bathsheba’s dress had changed three or four times in a matter of minutes.  Without being entirely familiar with how frequently Victorian women changed dresses for various social engagements, and labor activities, I had to assume the passage of time.  It turns out this did not affect the progress or overall pacing of the film, but it was distracting, at least for me.

This film is likely to be unappealing to a few.  Whether they dislike British cinema, classic romances, “chick flicks”, or well-told stories with complicated characters, does not matter.  Those individuals may never see why Far from the Madding Crowd is a superb film, the rest of us, will simply enjoy this movie with a  a cup of tea (Earl Grey, hot).

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