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May 27 2015

Review: Far From The Madding Crowd

InFar From the Madding Crowd,a new film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel,every eligible man wants Carey Mulligan's winsome Bathsheba.But she cannot be tamed!(Funny how commitment phobia reads as strength in a female protagonist and weakness in a male protagonist).Or at least she won't "settle"for less than what she's already planned for herself.Nevertheless the wanting continues and the camera,observes her,often at a distance as with a memorable shot of Bathsheba laying back from her saddle,as if enjoying the tactile and visual sensations of the powerful creature beneath her and the vibrant foliage and sky above her.

(This review contains a general trajectory ending spoiler but itisbased on a 151 year-old classic novel.)

Three bachelors and Bathsheba's issues after the jump...

Bachelor #1 Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a manly sensitive ridiculously great looking shepherd who treats her with respect and offers her a sweet country life as essentially equal partners.Though she likes him a lot and her curiousity is piqued,she isn't ready to settle down.

Bachelor #2 William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) is a very wealthy but lonely man (Michael Sheen) whose name is an unfortunate mismatch with his timid softness.He offers her a leisurely version of her current life;he's smart enough to know that she'll still want her independence but dim enough to miss why.

Bachelor #3 Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge) is a young military man who offers Bathsheba nothing but is eager to take.He doesn't court so much as pounce,to borrow fromCabaret's sexual lessons.Bathsheba,guarded in all ways but the sexual of which she has zero experience,succumbs.More than succumbs,really,she runs straight into his fire despite all the smoky warnings.

One of the film's many strong visual decisions is Troy's initial pass at our heroine which occurs in a forest that's shot more like something from a fertile dreamscape.There's something not quite real about it,too perfect really,as if the dream could slide at any moment into nightmare.

I confess to not having read the novel OR seen the Julie Christie film which first transferred the classic to celluloid (I know.I know.Bad fan!) so I'm at a loss to say how well either film understands the text or characters or to compare the two films.So pardon my ignorance but are we meant to think Bathsheba an arrogant and blind fool throughout?Maybe it's just that the deck is so thoroughly stacked by director Thomas Vinterberg and Screenwriter David Nicholls that her romantic confusion is inexcusable rather than sympathetic and fascinating.

What Bathsheba wants is,in the end,a moot point.The camera knows what it wants and what it wants is the good shepherd played by the greatest movie star Belgium has ever offered us.Schoenearts is irresistible to look at and the camera agrees,continually flattering him with intense closeups as he observes Bathsheba.We have no choice but to thank the filmmakers for so much of him but maybe the camera ought to give him a little space if this is meant to be Bathsheba's story and not his?

Julie Christie and Terence Stamp in the 1967 versionIt's tough to imagine that the original film isn't more arousing or at least more empathetic to Bathsheba's wrongheaded sexual impulses.Sturridge does fine work as the despicable soldier but there have been few actors in history as combustible with their hard gaze as Terence Stamp in his prime.I mean he brought a whole family to their knees to carnally worship him inTeorema,did he not? The other problem could well be Mulligan's screen persona,which has never really hinted at true sexual wildness (the closest she's come is the mascara-streaked messed inShame),but has always projected instead,something like sexual innocence and engaging intellect.Someone more carnally mysterious,like a -- well,like a Julie Christie -- might have been a better fit for the role.

Such as it is then,Far From the Madding Crowd,is a mixed bag,but one that's easy to recommend.Even if Mulligan is wrong for the role,she's a wonderful actress.And,more generally speaking,it's a thoroughly enjoyable movie to sit through with fine acting,a lushly imagined farm estate,and beautiful costumes courtesy of the great Janet Patterson (The Piano,Peter Pan).Her work somehow grants the film a contemporary immediacy (love that maroon leather jacket on Bathsheba) without pulling us too anachronistically far from the period.

But theMadding Crowdstory is more or less a waiting game.If it's meant to be a romantic tragedy,it doesn't work.It's more like romantic comedy in its absolute inevitability.Mr Oak is the only man for Bathsheba.He knows it.We know it.And the camera is drawing up wedding plans from the moment it first spots the dreamboat,tending to his sheep.When will smart but dim Bathsheba know it?

Oscar Chances: Fox Searchlight has carefully turned this one into a minor hit so perhaps it'll get an Oscar campaign at year's end?

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Reader Comments (24)

Interesting take.You're making me reexamine this film more critically,as I really very much enjoyed it when I saw it.I did not know this was previously filmed with Julie Christie,and that changes everything.I wanna see THAT now.And you do have a point about how the plot reads like a romantic tragedy but the tone feels more like that of a romantic comedy.The film doesn't quite seem to know what it is,and *SPOILER* it seems rather callous that her husband and his lover had to die AND her other suitor had to go to prison forever before she finally noticed the perfection in plain sight before her in the form of Gabriel Oak.

I don't think Mulligan's screen personal was the problem so much as the fact that Shoenaerts was lusty perfection and Sturridge less so (that mustache,why??).I could buy Mulligan's character as part headstrong feminist and part naive schoolgirl and believe that she'd fall unexpectedly for Troy if not for the fact that Shoenaerts seems designed in a laboratory to be the perfect man and is so sympathetic and lovely in his performance that you just can't believe Bathsheba doesn't see it.

The one thing I'm surprised you didn't even mention,which had me won over from the very first frames,is the absolutely rapturous musical score.I really hope that's nominated for the oscar.I think it went a long way toward smoothing out the total confusion and illuminating Bathsheba's emotional journey,or at least distracting me from the inconsistencies therein.I'm a sucker for a good classical score,and it was just utterly lovely in my opinion.

And yes,the costumes were quite impressive,too.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Keller

the impossibly gorgeous Matthias Schoenaerts,despite all his talents,does not sound English in this film.I'm eager to hear Marion's Scottish when Macbeth is released.Here's where we're reminded that the technicians (Streep,Blanchett,Daniel Day) are needed to save the day.With Schoenaerts we're not even able to admire all the supposedly hard work he's thrown into mastering the accent,despite the degree of success.He looks nervous when he speaks throughout the entire film.Considering that he's hot and talented and is definitely not out of work why wasn't this better cast?It's not as if the movie depends on his star power or something.Sort of disappointing,since casting directors and producers have ears and are also aware of the wealth of talent out there.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

I really want to see this film but I've been holding out until I read the book,which I just bought recently,so I'm still hopeful I'll catch the movie in theaters.Curiously,although I've read a fair amount of Hardy,I've never read this one.

But yeah,I'm not sure about casting Carey Mulligan for this - it's like casting her as Daisy Buchanan,in a "huh,interesting choice,but not really what I'd envisioned"way.I ended up appreciating her take on Daisy (I think I'm in the minority there) but still not being completely sold on it.I imagine I'll react similarly to her as Bathsheba.Wonder if Keira Knightley was ever considered for the role?

And my understanding is that Gabriel in the book isn't supposed to be hot so much as solid and true and maybe a little dull,is that not the case?I guess I'll find out!

May 27,2015 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

I don't mind if an accent isn't great as long as the actor nails the character.Schoenaerts seems like a good Gabriel in the trailers but I can't judge a performance only on that.

"The one thing I'm surprised you didn't even mention,which had me won over from the very first frames,is the absolutely rapturous musical score.I really hope that's nominated for the oscar"

I've listened to some of the score and its beautiful but It's so early in the year that it might be forgotten by nomination time.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

What a fun review!As a Julie Christie fanatic,I must admit shamefaced that I have never seen the original all the way through.But she's perfectly cast and embodies what Hardy had in mind when conceiving Bathseba.As written,she is a bewitching,preternaturally sensual being.This is not what Mulligan,despite her thespian whiles,handily projects.The original looks and sounds lush thanks to Nicolas Roeg's breathtaking photography and Richard Rodney Bennett's Oscar-nominated score.It boasts the directing/writing team behind Darling.And the entire cast including Peter Finch (NBR winner for Best Actor),Terence Stamp and Alan Bates is extraordinary.A tough pedigree to beat.The 1967 vesion has moved to the front of my queue.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Either Elizabeth Taylor or Vivien Leigh in their respective prime would have been perfect as Bathsheba...

May 27,2015 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

I think the film has a decent shot at score and costume nominations,assuming the campaign is there and knows what to focus on,since it's exactly the kind of film Oscar would generally be predisposed to nominating in those categories.

Honestly I didn't even notice Matthias' accent or lack thereof.I thought he was great.One could always imagine some backstory in which he grew up in some other European country and ended up in England somehow.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterAdam K

As a devout lover of the original,it took two viewings for that to happen though-the original is a full hour longer then the new version and the pace is languid,I do want to see this but that missing hour gives me pause.It looks beautiful but then so was the first.Julie in the original wasn't so much obtuse as obdurate because of the suddenness of her new position,her surety of her knowledge of the land and a firm idea of her station in life.

All of the new cast are fine performers,and Schoenaerts in particular despite his Belgian background seems a good fit,but the originals will be hard to match.Sturridge is the one I question the most,as you said Terence Stamp is hard to beat for steely eyed contemptibility and he's perfect at it in the film.Even Schoenaerts has quite a task,Alan Bates in the original is all rough hewn masculinity,hell he even makes the awful fashion of a beard with no mustache to balance it work!

It isn't fair for me to judge her sight unseen and I love Carey Mulligan as an actress but as a woman who drives a trio of men to distraction?As you said Nathaniel that is not her vibe,Julie Christie could do it absolutely and also convey the air that she didn't even realize her power.Even with all those considerations though I'm still looking forward to giving this one a go.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Agree with you that the camera sure is in love with Matthias.Specially in that dinner scene that is supposedly about Mulligan and Sheen singing together.

I've seen the 1967 version and Mulligan makes a much better Bathesheba.She brought a warmth,intellect and mischievousness that is modern and more interesting while Christie played her more as a reckless romantic.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMurtada

rick gould-I can't envision Liz Taylor in the part but there was a proposed version in the 40's with Vivien,she would have been an excellent choice,that collapsed in the planning stages that was to be directed by George Cukor.Olivia de Havilland was also considered for it but I think she's similar to Carey Mulligan in that sort of more reserve sexual aura.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I thought Carey did well in the role.It seemed totally in her arena.On-screen Carey is so much more interesting that off-screen/red carpet Carey.I don't know who is more boring off-screen/red carpet between her and Rooney Mara.I can't imagine Elizabeth Taylor in the role either,btw.Taylor has sexuality in spades and I don't know if this particular film needed that for Bathsheba.

When I saw this film,i was surprised about how it was such a straight-forward classic romantic period drama.It almost bordered on parody.Michael Sheen didn't have much to do but I thought he did great with what he had.With Tom Sturridge,the moustache made so much sense because it instantly made him look like the dipshit douche he was supposed to be.With Matthias,he's so dreamy.This was my first time seeing him on screen and even though he doesn't look or sound like an Englishman,he still came off like the perfect romantic lead.I swooned at the ending.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

I haven't seen this so perhaps it isn't fair but "wrong for the role"has described Mulligan quite a few times for me (Drive,Gatsby).I loved her in An Education but there are only so many times someone can be "miscast"before it turns into "not enough range".

May 27,2015 | Unregistered Commentermsd

Totally valid points but I admit I was gaga for it.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Bias alert: I'm moderately obsessed with this film.I'd love for Mulligan,the costumes,and the score to get Oscar nominations and it'll probably be on my year-end Ten Best list.

So,admitting my slant,I didn't have so much of a problem with an ending that was a foregone conclusion.That's sorta the M.O.of Victorian romances!On top of this,there's the fact that this is a newly rich girl who would be settling for a man that has little and then (spoiler alert) is completely broke and works for her.Who can blame her for looking for wealthier men with professions,even if the perfect man is staring her in the face with his beautiful blue eyes?

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Yavor: Marion keeps her French accent in Macbeth.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

@ Elizabeth,all I can say is - :(

As far as Carey Mulligan is concerned,she's once again more than wonderful.She's an actor who can't fake a performance.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

msd: I think that's a problem of casting directors and directors having very little interest in having a varied feel of UK actresses.Carey Mulligan,Mia Wasikowska and Keira Knightley,the three youngish UK actresses who matter right now,may have different facial shapes,but they have pretty much the same performative strengths and weaknesses.Accent fluid and with that proper and prototypically mid-high class Brit thing going on's a double edged sword.How?On the one hand,they can do excellently with more normal characters like Mia as Jane Eyre,Carey Mulligan as Jenny or Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke,but on the other they don't really have the KIND of harsh-edged fire where,say,you can really believe in Keira Knightley as Domino Harvey or in Mia Wasikowska as a more aggressive/badass version of Alice.Carey Mulligan doesn't have any casting call that's quite so obviously and painfully wrong headed as either of those,though.But!Do I think we need more female British characters like Domino and the concept of an aggressive and active Alice?Yes!But doing so is basically predicated on handing Kaya Scodelario and Katie Jarvis stronger material and allowing them to stretch.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Bathsheba is a character that is meant to be seen as arrogant and willful in both the book and that flaw is part of the problem with any film adaptation.The John Schlesinger version with Christie,Stamp,and Bates is more leisurely and more muddy than this one.For some reason I missed the earthiness of the first version,I found this version playful but a little too pretty,but it's a very solid effort.I thought the direction was basically "Joe Wright lite".

It's true Carey Mulligan isn't quite the sensual being that Christie was,however she brings a warmth that makes it believable that 3 men would fall for her.My favourite version of this was the modern comic take from a couple of years ago - "Tamara Drewe".They played the whole situation for laughs which was a little easier to accept for a modern audience.
Well worth seeing.

May 27,2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Wonderful review and very convincing arguments.I guess I'd argue that it's less about a bona fide love triangle than it is about class;it's not that Bathsheba is blind to Oak's appeal or her own growing feelings for him than the fact that she (as well as he) feel that it's pretty impossible for anything to come out of an gulf of status,wealth,and employment relationship,an irony and classic Hardy dilemma,since their working relationship is what fuels their genuine rapport in the first place.The other two men represent attempts to recreate that rapport with better social equity,only they end up being halves of what she has with Gabriel.For all of her impulsivity and initiative,she doesn't take the lead in relationships (notice that the end,she's asking Oak to stay while demanding that he ask for her hand once again).

On a more straightforward note,Schoenaerts and Mulligan had wonderful chemistry in this movie and I was totally swooning by the end of the movie,which earns an automatic A from me--love period drama adaptations but I'm so infrequently convinced by the onscreen romances.

May 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterCiCi

Also,just saw Volvagia's comment and would add that I hold out little hope for Scoledario.Don't forget that she had her own juicy period drama vehicle,Wuthering Heights,and she was pretty underwhelming in that.She's got an edge for sure,but I've rarely seen it translate to the kind of fire and complexity you're talking about.

May 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterCiCi

Volvagia - Wasikowska is Australian,isn't she?Though has mastered an effortless English accent (like most Australian actors for that matter).

I think it's great that Mulligan and Knightley have been afforded the opportunity to work with varied directors,challenge themselves,fail on occasion and develop into exciting talents for the future.Rather than complain about them,we should be complaining that more actresses don't get this opportunity...

I also agree that Scoledario was the weakest part of Wuthering Heights (and I both love this adaptation and feel that she should have nailed it).So strange.She was effortlessly captivating in Skins and just isn't replicating that in parts that could have been tailor made for her...

May 28,2015 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

CiCi -- thanks for the response.intrigued by what you're saying which i knew but you fleshed it out in a way that it's more convincing to me.As i said it was a thoroughly enjoyable movie despite some of my qualms.I'm glad people are seeing it!

also am unconvinced that Kaya Scoledario is an answer to anything but would like to see Katie Jarvis again in something.

but most of all i would like to see a young British or Australian actress get some momentum that isn't a tiny slip of a thing like Keira / Carey / Mia...can't we get another body type in there somewhere?There should be room for more than one type of look.Would love to see a curvier person arrive soon.Where is the new Kate Winslet?

May 28,2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Just watched this.My how the pops of vivid color in the outdoor landscapes make me think the film is trying its damnedest to be John Ford's "A Quiet Man."

January 9,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJames

I like all three versions of "FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD"very much.But my favorite version is the 1998 miniseries with Paloma Baeza and Nathaniel Parker.

Both the 1967 version and 2015 version did very little with the Fanny Robin character,aside from using her as a plot device.The 2015 version did not feature Frank's near encounter with Bathsheba and Boldwood at the circus.And the 1967 version did not feature Frank helping Bathsheba's farmhands in the field.But I do have one major problem with the 1967 version.The chemistry between Julie Christie's Bathsheba and Alan Bates' Gabriel seemed lacking.This is a problem for me,since I have always viewed the Bathsheba/Gabriel relationship as the backbone of Hardy's story.

April 26,2016 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

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