This is the fourth adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd to make it to the big screen (the fifth if you include Stephen Frears’ Tamara Drewe, the story of which is based on Thomas Hardy’s novel), with John Schlesinger’s 1967 version – starring Julie Christie, Terence Stamp and Peter Finch, and photographed by Nicolas Roeg – widely considered to be the best of the bunch. This one’s a solid production, directed by former Dogme 95 member Thomas Vinterberg, who was apparently unfamiliar with Hardy’s book and the other adaptations before starting work on his own. And by ‘solid’ I mean there’s nothing necessarily wrong with it – it looks good and it sounds good, which is often half the battle with regard to a period romance – but I suppose the implication is there that it never really soars, which is a shame. Still, Carey Mulligan is in it, starring as the heroine Bathsheba Everdene, the young woman who rejects the advances of two suitors as she seeks to independently establish herself as a successful farmer near the Wessex coast (modern-day Dorset). She’s very good, as you’d expect, and it’s fun to see a series of smirks and smiles break out across her face throughout the film (these are generally and conspiratorially shared with the viewer, and not the men who seek her hand in marriage). Of the three who fall in love with Bathsheba it’s Michael Sheen who turns in the best supporting work as the wealthy landowner Boldwood, who becomes attracted to her when she sends him a joke Valentine’s Day card. By contrast Matthias Schoenaerts struggles as strong, silent-ish sheep farmer Gabriel Oak, and unfortunately Tom Sturridge’s Captain Troy – the man Bathsheba eventually marries – is even less convincing. The former gamely tries his best but seems tense throughout and is clearly better at playing modern characters, while Sturridge’s gambling soldier is fudged a little (though it’s hard to say whether the actor, the director or the screenwriter David Nicholls is to blame, or even if it’s a combination of the work of all three). The climactic scene involving the clash between Boldwood and Troy is mis-handled, partly because it sits within a third act that is rushed, and partly because Vinterberg and Nicholls fail to include the build up of simmering tension that exists between the two characters within the novel.
Aside from some of the acting and the pace during the final act I have few complaints. There’s some impressive photography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, who also shot last year’s Dennis Stock/James Dean biopic Life for Anton Corbijn, with standout moments as she captures sunsets and incoming storms (hey, a metaphor!). The costume design by Janet Patterson is impressive, too. Vinterberg and Nicholls hit the right notes in terms of the story’s reversal of typical gender roles within Victorian England – with regard to the way Bathsheba deals with her new employees when she inherits her uncle’s farm in particular – and there are some attempts to explore the novel’s related theme of shifting class, and specifically how changes in fortune can affect people’s behaviour. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth a watch, and Mulligan and Sheen manage to put their own stamp on roles that have long been associated with other actors.
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg.
Written by: David Nicholls. Based on Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge.
Cinematography: Charlotte Bruus Christensen.
Editing: Claire Simpson.
Music: Craig Armstrong.
Running Time: 119 minutes.