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Far from the Madding Crowd – Movie Review

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Far from the Madding Crowd – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

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Even when a story is written over a century ago, there is still room for new interpretations that keep the classic setting and manage to stay enthralling. Thomas Vinterberg is more than happy to keep the time and place of Thomas Hardy’s famous novel and the result is a smart take on the book, which almost serves as a lesson in how to write a love triangle. Throw in excellent production values, some noteworthy performances and a screenplay that values patience over anything else and Far from the Madding Crowd becomes a surprising summer gem. It’s an unorthodox release for May, but one that’s greatly appreciated.

Probably the most challenging element of adapting Hardy’s book is the multiple characters and plotlines that we follow. David Nicholls’s screenplay succeeds in allowing each character the necessary development and fully explores each of their arcs. There’s a lot to keep track of and yet everything feels organised and well-structured. This is most notable with the multiple suitors that lead protagonist Bathsheba Everdene becomes involved with. It helps that everyone is compelling with issues that plague them and miraculously, nobody gets lost in the shuffle. Bathsheba is a strongly written character and one whose personal agendas shift through the course of her story, as any person would. She’s also smart and capable and has the necessary emotions when the time calls for it. When she becomes romantically entangled with a new man, it becomes perfectly understandable in the course of the story as does when it falls apart. There’s a tragedy seen in everyone in Far from the Madding Crowd, but Vinterberg never goes the sentimental route.

The dialogue in Nicholls’s script is sharp with a lot of wit and intelligence, giving these characters a more human and relatable quality. Carey Mulligan has the especially difficult task of showing a woman who has to shift from being a serious leader and boss to a romantic. There’s a lot of emotion required in playing Bathsheba and she pulls it off beautifully. The male leads have the right chemistry with her, depending on their relationship. Matthias Schoenaerts has a likeable rouge quality in playing sheepherder Gabriel Oak. He is certainly given the most memorable scene in Far from the Madding Crowd, involving a flock of sheep. Michael Sheen also continues to be the go-to actor in playing uncertain gentlemen, who can be charming at one second and then nervous at the other. Tom Sturridge manages to make it believable that Bathsheba would want to marry him and the script segues well into his fall from grace into a more troubled and gambling-addicted individual. Then there’s Juno Temple, who is incredibly sympathetic as a young girl with puppy love in her eyes and seeing the disappointment she finds herself in is very heartbreaking.

Thomas Vinterberg’s eye for filming the fields of Dorset is a wonder with the stunning cinematography of his usual collaborator Charlotte Bruus Christensen serving almost as a time machine to Victorian-era England. There are scenes where the camera is allowed to swoop through the crowds of the towns, farms and buildings and thus getting the audience to take it all in. Craig Armstrong’s beautiful score only elevates the feel of the piece and hitting the appropriate notes with each character. Vinterberg’s direction is so absorbing that one forgets they are watching a period piece, despite the historical clothes and houses.

There’s an important element in respecting the legacy of a story from centuries ago, while making it relevant to today’s society. There’s a classic tone to Far from the Madding Crowd that makes the film immediately appealing and Thomas Vinterberg never turns it into a stuffy period piece. The best part is nobody feels superfluous and the script respects the audience and expects it to understand the film’s complex themes, ideas and character situations. For any audience member who is enthralled by these tales of ye olde England, Far from the Madding Crowd serves as a perfect alternative to the explosions sure to litter many of the multiplexes during the summer movie season.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison


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