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Movie Review of the Week: “Far From the Madding Crowd”

Movie Review of the Week: “Far From the Madding Crowd”
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By Alison Bailes

British novelist Thomas Hardy and Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg might seem unlikely bedfellows. But the preeminent Victorian writer and the daring boy of the Dogme 95 film movement prove to be a winning combination in the gorgeous new adaptation of Hardy’s 1874 “Far from the Madding Crowd”.

Of course, we all remember Julie Christie in the 1967 version (can it really be that long ago?) and Hardy has been memorably captured on celluloid over the years (check out Roman Polanski’s “Tess” and Michael Winterbottom’s many adaptations).  But Vinterberg (“The Celebration”, “The Hunt”) brings his outsider eye to the English countryside and renders this story of loyalty and love strikingly modern and topical. Not that he goes all meta and post-modern on us. The setting is still the 1880s and there are no kitschy anachronisms in the script by David Nicholls.  Vinterberg simply brings the story to life with rich emotion and authentic local color.

Watching in 2015, it is apparent how ahead of his time Hardy was when he conceived the character of Bathsheba Everdene, a true feminist in this established, patriarchal society. Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a feisty young woman who inherits her uncle’s farm and must fight and claw for respect from her workers and peers. She is also unwilling to compromise her independence for the comfort of marriage…often the safest route for a single woman to ensure her future in those days. What is most wonderful about the book (and this film) is that Bathsheba isn’t denied love. She ends up as a strong, successful business woman with a loving hunk at her side. How’s that for leaning in?

Hardy’s most upbeat novel (not without its smattering of tragedy of course) features three suitors for Bathsheba: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts “Rust and Bone”, “Bullhead”) as the upstanding, loyal shepherd who sticks by her side through thick and thin; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen “The Queen”) a wealthy landowner who is almost comic in his lonely desperation; and Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge “Effie Gray”) who dazzles Bathsheba with his swordplay…literally and metaphorically, wink wink.

Mulligan (“An Education”) is exceptional as the strong-willed Bathsheba, her performance is smart, sexy and assured.  The actors surrounding her share the credit. Sturridge is all come-hither eyes and vulpine charm. It’s no wonder that Bathsheba is seduced. Sheen is quite superb as Boldwood, letting us slowly in on his character’s declining mental state. This film should catapult Schoenaerts to leading man status. His macho aura positively shoots off the screen.

Vinterberg deserves much praise too for the lush cinematography (DP Charlotte Bruus Christensen shot on film) and his choice of Dorset locations unchanged since the 1880s. Scenes of sheep-dipping, hay bale making and shepherding provide a gripping (I promise!) backdrop to Bathsheba’s travails, reminding us of Hardy’s enduring legacy as a chronicler of England’s rural history.  Stifled emotions simmer beneath the surface, but when Bathsheba, in her tight leather riding jacket, flies across the rolling hills on horseback, you will rejoice in the freedom of a woman released. She will simply astonish you all.




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