While many were flocking to see Marvel’s latest popcorn flick, Age of Ultron, another movie about a different struggle was released on the same date. This one is of a time long ago, a battle that is more based on emotions than large robots and superheroes, and one that at its center revolves around a female lead, and a strong one at that. Welcome to Far from the Madding Crowd, a big screen adaptation of the classic Thomas Hardy novel, which stars Carrey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Set in the Victorian farmlands of England, we meet a confident and vibrant beauty, uniquely named Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan). She, similar to a future YA heroine who would share her same last name, is independent, tough, a go-getter, and full of endless energy. After she begins working on her aunt’s small property, she learns that she has inherited the estate and fortune of her late uncle, becoming an heiress of wealth and fortune in an instant.
On her journey of gaining power and respect within her community, she meets three unique gentlemen. One, a sheep herder named Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts), is a man whose lack of verbal interaction is made up for in his loyalty to those he cares for. The next, William Boldwood (Sheen), is wealthy in terms of his earnings from his land, but lacks that kind of excellence in the love department. The last is Sgt. Frank Troy (Sturridge), an ex-solider who is the charming, energetic young man many girls would dream of. So, which will our leading lady choose as her true love? That’s a question that even Bathsheba herself cannot simply answer.
Yes, at its core, Far from the Madding Crowd is a Victorian love story, one that is more layered than a parfait. Its set up and course are pretty simple to guess, and follows a thread that is woven predictably to most modern audiences. But, even though this is a tale that has been told countless times, it never grows stale. The simple reason for that is Ms. Everdene herself, both at her core as a character and because of the talented woman who brings her to life, Ms. Mulligan. It is hard not to find her completely and utterly captivating, and you can easily see why the men in her life become so infatuated by her presence.
As for Bathsheba’s suitors, they run the gamut of intriguing to cringe worthy. The star of this trio is clearly Schoenaerts, who shines in his rendition of Mr. Oak. This actor, for whom English is his second language, has more power in one look than most actors do in a rendition of Shakespeare. This is definitely an indication of star on the rise. Sturiddge is, on the opposite spectrum, the weakest of the bunch. His role as Sgt. Troy is considered to be, by many, the most important. He is supposed to sweep Bathsheba off her feet and charm the socks off the audience, but by the end, Troy comes off more like bratty child who didn’t get the lollipop he asked for.
As for Sheen, he (as always) was excellent. Unfortunately, he seemed to has been stereotyped as playing the “crazy, lonely guy,” and this role doesn’t really help in breaking that mold. Many would agree though, especially with his groundbreaking turn in Showtime’s Masters of Sex, Sheen deserves to be given that leading male role that is romantic, sympathetic, and positive. And though his turn as Boldwood wasn’t exactly anything new for him, it is still a step in the right direction.
Acting aside, Far from the Madding Crowd features a mixed nut bag of elements that work in the story’s favor, with others that definitely far from aid the project. Director Thomas Vinterberg clearly understands the material he is working with, and does a fantastic job of portraying the classic with a refreshing energy required for modern audiences to digest. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen outdoes herself here, making each frame look like the most lavish of paintings.
Unfortunately, all of the efforts put in by the above mentions, along with the costume design by Janet Patterson, are presented in the weakest of fashions by a bland, run of the mill, final edit. Scenes are faded to black often, and have no clear connective thread to hang onto, making the final product feel as detached as I do to an annoying hang nail.
When all is said and done, Far from the Madding Crowd is an absolutely lovely upgrade of an adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel. Though it deserves a much grander, and lively edit, what is there is definitely “far from” boring, and definitely resides in the most beautiful, and entertaining of “crowds.”