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Film review: we check out Far From The Madding Crowd

With an inspired choice of director and actress Carey Mulligan in top form, this film has plenty going for it, says Andrew Johnston

Published 01/05/2015

Young love: Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak and Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene
Young love: Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak and Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene

It's best to approach the 2015 adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd without making comparisons to John Schlesinger's 1967 version, or indeed to Thomas Hardy's classic 1874 novel. Taken on its own terms, the film is an entertaining piece of work that manages to evoke the tale's time and place while remaining accessible for a modern audience.

Much of this can be put down to director Thomas Vinterberg. The Dane, whose CV has ranged from co-founding the Dogme 95 movement with Lars von Trier to shooting Metallica's music video for The Day That Never Comes, is an unusual choice, but an inspired one. He injects the movie with a bold energy that elevates it out of its period drama confines.

Vinterberg's penetrative camerawork is matched in its sense of daring by the offbeat casting. Carey Mulligan notches up another eye-catching performance, playing central heroine Bathsheba Everdene. An independent and headstrong farmer, yet elegant and comely enough to have her pick of three suitors, Miss Everdene is richly played by Mulligan, and emerges a character for our times.

Of the male leads, Michael Sheen is her closest equal. The Welsh thespian uncovers a thread of humour in the well-heeled, mature bachelor William Boldwood that might have passed another actor by, and his and Mulligan's duet on Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is a highlight. Meanwhile, Boldwood's infamous fate is deftly handled.

Tom Sturridge fares less well as the complicated Army sergeant Frank Troy. Sturridge interprets Everdene's first husband as a broadly unlikeable cad, but his physicality is lacking in scenes in which he is required to menace his wife. Sturridge's wispy-moustachioed creep looks more like he should be running a hipster cafe than fighting for Queen and country.

And as fine an actor and imposing a presence as Belgian hunk Matthias Schoenaerts is, he is almost comically miscast as the humble sheep farmer Gabriel Oak. The English accent obviously doesn't come easy to him, and he struggles to stimulate much chemistry with Mulligan.

Still, David Nicholl's screenplay is efficiently rendered, even if we skip over one or two of the novel's key moments. The sprawling nature of the book has been understandably condensed for an 120-minute movie, both visually and thematically. In the final act, it does feel as if Vinterberg is eager to wrap things up and go home, but rather that than drag things out for three hours.

On the look of the film, it may not dwell as much on the English countryside as it perhaps could, though how apt that a female cinematographer - Charlotte Bruus Christensen - should be behind the lens for a story that has been read by many as a feminist tract.

Far from the Madding Crowd is unlikely to set the box office alight, but as a canny bit of counter-programming to the screen-engulfing Avengers juggernaut, it should find its niche.

Three stars

Belfast Telegraph

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