Far from the Madding Crowd is one of the most interesting movies I’ve seen this year, and for all the right reasons. In a year that is already being dominated by the major blockbusters (Furious Seven, Avengers) and the thoughtful sci-fi features (Ex Machina), it’s somewhat calming to see a movie like this; a quiet and soothing romance with a Gone with the Wind-era feel with just enough relevance to not feel dated.
The story, based on the classic novel by Thomas Hardy, follows Bathsheba Everdeen (Carey Mulligan), a headstrong Victorian woman who is allowed to choose who she wants to be with. The first choice is Gabriel (Matthias Schoenaerts), an honorable sheep farmer who has just lost everything and is desperate to start fresh. The second is a soldier, which is really all that is needed to draw her in. And the third is an old Bachelor (Michael Sheen). Just like the book, the movie takes the characters through years of their life and through different situations, all to bring them to a crossroad that dictates who she will pick and whom she won’t.
Now this may not sound all too pro-feminist, and to be honest, I don’t think it always is. The film is stuffed with scenes in which Bathsheba attempts to establish her own identity and put her foot down, but she often falls back into the “oh-isn’t-he-so-dreamy” phase. But, is that necessarily anti-feminism? I’m not completely sure, because there are tons of moments throughout this movie where she asserts her dominance (this is, of course, in a nonsexual sense) and it drew some heavy laughter from my audience.
Which brings me to my next point. This movie, while feeling and reading like something out of a Jane Austin novel, is very funny, presenting a likable heroine that is always providing laughs when it comes to her knowledge and lack of shame to flaunt it. As Bathsheba, the always-terrific Carey Mulligan (Drive, Shame, The Great Gatsby) is just wonderful, bringing this character to the screen with a purposeful sense of fun and wit. She’s the driving force of this movie, every scene that involves a male character always coming back full circle to focus on her. She is the reason for their being in the film, and she’s one of the best female characters in any movie I’ve seen so far this year.
The guys ain’t half bad either, folks; what with their scruffy beards and stylishly curved mustachios (respectively speaking). Matthias Schoenaerts is excellent as Gabriel, the main one we’re meant to root for (right?) since the opening of the film. As always, Michael Sheen gives some strong work, but that goes without saying. And I didn’t even mind watching the mustachioed Tom Sturridge and his annoyingly abusive acts, even though he was the weakest of the trio.
There’s no question that the movie is slow, but it isn’t a drag. For a two-hour feature, I thought it went by quickly and wrapped up nicely. Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) directs with style, which is really something given the context and setting of the film’s events. I think some issues arise when Vinterberg uses lens flares (only one director can pull off the use of flares, and we know who he is), but it isn’t enough to take this movie down. This is a finely tuned little piece of work with solid performances and a fun sense of joy that makes for a wondrous time at the cinema for young and old.
1 hr. 59 mins.
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence
Starring Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michel Sheen, Tom Sturridge
Written by David Nicholls
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg