“It is my intention to astonish you all,” says Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) to her farmhands. ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ is a beautiful and polished adaptation of the classic novel by Thomas Hardy. Everything works nicely from the vibrant cinematography of Charlotte Bruss Christensen, the first-rate ensemble cast to the confident directing of Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt). Vinterberg comes from Lars von Trier’s Dogme movement. Vinterberg brings life to a literary classic that explores class and wealth as well as how an independent woman finds her place in society. Mulligan perfectly embodies the strong-willed Bathsheba Everdene. Interestingly, Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins is quoted as saying Katniss Everdeen is named after Hardy’s heroine.
Bathsheba played by Mulligan was ahead of her time. She was a true feminist in every sense of the word. Her story begins as a young woman living with her aunt. With not a dime to her name, she helps work the fields. She has three suitors in Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), who owns an adjacent farm, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), rich land owner who treats a potential relationship like a business transaction and Sgt. Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a soldier with a moustache and long sword. Gabriel asks her hand in marriage and Bathsheba rejects him. When tragedy strikes on his sheep farm that includes a dramatic cliff scene where he loses his entire herd, it financially ruins him. Then suddenly Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm and she becomes a wealthy and independent business woman.
That’s the fascinating aspect of Hardy’s classic tale. She’s in a position now where there is no need for a husband. Instead of marrying him, Bathsheba hires Gabriel to manage her large farm and act almost like a guardian angel. Meanwhile, William Boldwood is smitten by his attractive neighbor when she sends him a flirty Valentine card. He happens to own a huge plot of land and also proposes to her. He’s an older gentleman with wealth but without a romantic bone in his body. Needless to say, when the soldier Francis Troy comes on the scene, logic is thrown out the window. She wants to be loved for herself and surrenders to the charms of the dashing soldier in the scarlet coat. When the two meet in a forest, Troy dazzles her with stylish swordplay. He thrusts and parries his sword at the quivering Bathsheba like foreplay. Here’s a woman that chooses a man based on passion. You cannot help but wonder why she chose this man over the others when he still has feelings for an old flame Fanny Robbin (Juno Temple).
The highlight of this film is the two leads Mulligan and Schoenaerts. When they’re on screen together, you want them to fall in love. Mulligan is an exciting actress that has shown her acting range in challenging roles in films like ‘An Education, ‘Drive’ and ‘Inside Llewyn Davis.’ Her latest performance shows the right balance of strength and vulnerability that makes Bathsheba such a complex character. It’s definitely an Oscar-caliber performance for Mulligan. Schoenaerts is another reason to see ‘Far From the Madding Crowd.’ He’s another actor that takes on challenging roles. The Belgian star was terrific in the Marion Cotillard drama ‘Rust and Bone.’ He brings a masculine physicality to his roles with an equal amount of sensitivity. The chemistry between Mulligan and him is magnetic.
This film is not for everyone. It’s a period piece and they tend to move at a slower pace. Vinterberg is a patient director that allows the scenes to unfold naturally. The cinematography is gorgeous and enhances the earthy tones of the rugged south coast of England. When Bathsheba says, “I want to astonish you all,” Mulligan certainly achieves her wishes through a masterful performance. Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/D9MclJzXe9g.