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A glossy golden sun settles upon the glistening, sheep infested green fields, of an 1870’s Victorian England in director Thomas Vinterberg’s gorgeous retelling of the Thomas Hardy novel, “Far From the Madding Crowd”. Standing out is the stories strong willed, take no crap from anyone heroine, Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan). She is given a farm estate from her uncle in a male dominated world, where three men of different statures strive to win her heart. Opening worldwide this weekend, “Far From the Madding Crowd” is a lavishly done, beautiful film, which showcases solid drama.

With her gentle figure, Mulligan takes on the tough role as Miss Everdene with a well paced performance. In the beginning she keeps to herself, like a lone squirrel harvesting acorns. Her parents both have passed and she has never been involved with a man. After meeting on the plains, she is quickly asked for her hand in marriage by the strong like oak, appropriately named man- Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts). Yet, Miss Bathsheba is not one to fall for any sheep farmer with a beard. She kindly rejects. She is a woman of independence, who won’t be controlled, and exists in a society that believes woman should know their place. She tells Gabriel, “I want somebody to tame me and you’d never be able to do it”.  

Director Thomas Vinterberg likes his characters conflicted. And this time, the Oscar nominated director (2012’s “The Hunt”) has let his settings and Hardy’s novel do the work. The screenplay by David Nicholls (“One Day”) gets the most of these rich characters and the actors portraying them in the 119 minutes. That is 50 minutes less than the 1967 acclaimed version with Julie Christie and Peter Finch. Although some of the relationships move too quickly, “Madding Crowd” is never slow in pace. 

When Bathsheba inherits the farm, it is her time to prove that she is a worthy harvester to top hat wearing buyers. She fights for fair prices along with fighting off her male suitors. Her neighbor is wealthy bachelor William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). He is a man of proper etiquette, someone that could take care of her, but she sees him as nothing more than a friend. There is a flicker of promise in a scene when the two sing a beautiful song at the dinner table as Gabriel looks on, but Bathsheba quickly keeps guarded. A second man’s proposal put on hold, another man is slighted. 

Mulligan gives one of her best performances. It is not just what the “Inside Llewyn Davis” actress is saying, but her reserved feelings that are unsaid. You can see internal struggle on her face. When the mustached general Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) enters the picture, it is his good looks and charm that break down her walls. This leaves her vulnerable, for the first time. She makes the decision to marry a man who she is unaware was scorned by his prior lover, a rush to judgment that she may soon regret.  

Although the film wavers in some areas, such as the poor casting choice of Sturridge, and a bit more detail needed on our character’s relationships, this is a pleasant film. The performance from Schoenaerts (“The Drop”, “Bullhead”) shows he is an actor worthy of leading man status. Gabriel is the one we want to earn her affection, and the two of them have a mutual respect. She understands what comes with the cost of giving a man her heart and he is not in the business of chasing her around.  

 Overall, “Far From the Madding Crowd” is an uplifting film. You will be moved by the it’s performances and the scenery, which has the look of films like Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” or Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility”.  There is no shortage of romance either. It’s not cheesy like “The Notebook” kind of romance. It’s the kind of romance where you sigh in approval at the end. “Sigh”.


Written By: Leo Brady       

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