You can’t help being impressed by any woman pursued by three eligible suitors, but when you know from the get-go that she’s eventually going to choose the brooding, soulful hunky one, that sort of undercuts any drama inherent in the situation.
And that’s only one of the problems with this latest film adaptation of the Thomas Hardy classic which, while beautiful to look at, suffers from inconsistent direction and the miscasting of the lead female role.
Carey Mulligan stars as Bathsheba Everdene, a willful woman who inherits a farming fortune, and is pursued by a trio of eligible men. First there’s Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts, master of soulful looks), a small farmer who asks for her hand, is rejected, but, after forced to sell his property, goes to work for Bathsheba and is loyal to her through thick and thin. Next is obviously troubled William Boldwood (Martin Sheen, melancholy and itchy-twitchy), a rich landowner also in love with our heroine, who is also spurned, and then commits a shocking act of violence that lands him in jail. Finally there’s Sgt. Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge, callow and very smarmy), who manages to marry Bathsheba, but turns out to be an utter cad, and ultimately gets what’s coming to him.
This all makes for some overheated Victorian melodrama, which is fine as it is, but would have been a whole lot better if someone with real gravitas had been cast as Bathsheba. And gravitas is something Mulligan, an attractive and accomplished actress, simply does not have. She seems over-matched in almost all her encounters; a little girl trying to act tough with a bunch of demanding men. Watching Mulligan, I couldn’t help comparing her with Julie Christie, who played the same role in the 1967 film version. A more beautiful, and more tightly wound actress, Christie makes Mulligan look bland by comparison.
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Nor is Mulligan helped by Thomas Vinterberg’s direction, which opts for unnecessarily extreme close-ups, and sometimes off-putting camera angles. It’s hard to tell if this is meant to be artsy, or is just a symbol of the director’s incompetence. Certainly it practically destroys the climactic scene between Everdene and Oak, and detracts from the story as a whole.
“Far From the Madding Crowd” is not without its pluses – Sheen is particularly sympathetic, and Schoenaerts certainly is a hunka hunka burning love – but at two hours in length, and knowing all along what the denouement will be – the film begins to lose any luster it initially had. File this one under “close, but no cigar.”
Far From the Madding Crowd
B- Cast: Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Matthias Schoenaerts
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Length: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Rating: PG-13, for some sexuality and violence
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