Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexuality and violence
Running Time: 119 min.
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple, Jessica Barden
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Screenplay: David Nicholls (based on the novel by Thomas Hardy)
Review published May 16, 2015
Adapted from Thomas Hardy's classic novel of 1874, Far from the Madding Crowd is a period piece soap opera take on the work that will likely please fans of Jane Austen, "Downton Abbey", and all of the class-based romantic properties that stem from the same throwback era.
Set in English farming country in the mid-late 19th Century, we follow the exploits of Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis), an educated woman with not much to offer outside of her schooling, though she's too headstrong to get trapped into the property-based class system of the times (she's not one to be someone else's "property") by marring the nearby handsome shepherd and farmer named Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts, The Loft) just because he's proposed without so much as a courtship. Not saying yes, but also not saying no, they find their status reversed when he loses his farm while she inherits hers, and circumstances are such that he eventually becomes her employee. Chemistry notwithstanding, Bathsheba has her share of courters in the form of meek-but-wealthy middle-aged neighbor William Boldwood (Sheen, Midnight in Paris) and impulsive-but-adventurous military sergeant named Francis Troy (Sturridge, On the Road).
Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt, The Celebration) turns in quite an economical take on the Hardy opus, running nearly 50 minutes shorter than the 1967 version starring Julie Christie. If there is an issue with the film it is those lack of minutes afforded this work, as there are whole sections of this film that feel abbreviated, unfortunately to its detriment, where some more story beats and room to breathe would have been of great benefit to the overall resonance of such important scenes. This is especially evident in the scenes between Bathsheba and "Bachelor #3", Sergeant Troy, whose personality is thinly defined enough as it is before seemingly adversely changing in the very next scene. There is another scene involving the sudden death of a side character that brings up more questions that go largely unanswered, and further shifts the plotline in a new direction without adequate explanation. This also muddle the climax, as the developments at the very end involving a little bit of crime and punishment seems to be full of loose threads, such that we leave the theater wondering if much of the overly rushed film ended up on the proverbial cutting-room floor.
Plus, the characters are given a little nuance, but there isn't much time for them to be fully fleshed out, especially as the tempo of the story changes from scene to scene, thus requiring a great deal of narrative shorthand to convey, but little of the rationale. Hence, while we're told that Bathsheba is smart, shrewd and independent, most of her hand-wringing and reliance on the advice of those around her on what to do suggests more of an indecisive streak, and a fickle nature that has her wanting men enough to keep them around, yet not enough to fully commit without only one choice. Then, once she's committed, she almost immediately wants to negate it, which leaves the ending a bit uncertain as to its future, as we wonder how long she'll ride out whatever her latest decision in life before wishing she could undo it.
Beautifully shot, and sumptuously presented, it's a breeze to watch, even if it is condensed in story, but those looking for the definitive take on the Hardy book are not going to get it here. Mulligan brings a great deal of personality to the role, mixing strength with vulnerability without being inconsistent in tone, and the film also benefits from a memorable cast of supporting players and distinctive suitors, who each have their strengths and weaknesses, further complicating her decisions all around as far as the tug of war between her heart and her learned sensibilities.
So, perhaps if you're already familiar with the story and are just looking for a quick fix, the frothy-but-handsome 2015 edition of Far from the Madding Crowd makes for a quality diversion, but if you want all of the complex, emotional resonance and characterizations from Hardy's original novel, you're going to have to still go to the written page to find out why the story still endures to the modern day.
©2015 Vince Leo