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Far from the Madding Crowd – Joint Review

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 1st May 2015 [USA]
 
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
 
Writer: Thomas Hardy [Novel] - David Nicholls [Screenplay]
 
Cast: Carey Mulligan - Matthias Schoenaerts - Michael Sheen
 


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Posted May 4, 2015 by

 
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Far from the Madding Crowd – Joint Review

Jonathan’s Perspective:

“Even the scene with the saber is too abrupt and inadequately prepared.” New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote that about a crucial scene in John Schlesinger’s movie Far From the Madding Crowd back in 1967. But he may well have been writing about Thomas Vinterberg’s new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel. The problem remains. Perhaps it’s not the directors. Perhaps it is the source material.

Or more to the point, perhaps it manifests the differences in two distinct narrative forms – the novel and the film. Vinterberg, like Schlesinger before him, has mounted a beautiful production, set in the bucolic Wessex moors toward the end of the 19th century. There, the young, independent, and somewhat impetuous Bathsheba Everdene has taken over her uncle’s farm, and has won the hearts of three disparate suitors. All three propose marriage. She will reject two and accept the third, and therein lies the melodrama.

The first two suitors, the steady farmer and sheep whisperer Gabriel Oak, and the wealthy but sad neighbor William “Mr.” Boldwood, might make reasonable matches for Miss Everdene. But neither offers the excitement or the sheer sexual combustibility of the bold Sergeant Troy. The scene Crowther was deriding in his description above was the brief courtship between the Sergeant and the Lady, in which a saber is used to great phallic effect.

Though he has been introduced earlier, Troy does not really enter the narrative until about the midpoint, as Bathsheba is mulling over the proposal from Mr. Boldwood. Up until that point, Vinterberg has crafted a languid but effective portrait of a young woman navigating customs in a surprisingly friendly rural environment. Bathsheba is a bit of a spitfire, but she is also fair and she is smart. With virtually no guidance in how to occupy her role as mistress of a great farm, she does quite well for herself. But neither Hardy nor his adaptors were comfortable with the slow-moving love triangle amongst three farmers. Hence the arrival of the soldier.

Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls do not manage the rather late arrival of such a crucial character. The speed with which Bathsheba falls for him is only surpassed by the speed with which she realizes what a terrible mistake she has made. Her mindset, which had been rather carefully crafted up to the midpoint, is virtually impossible to read – beyond Troy’s great skill with that metaphoric saber. Similarly, though the character of Troy actually has hints of nuance beyond the simple cad, it is hard to really understand what he sees in Miss Everdene. She does have some wealth and beauty, but Troy was not impoverished in either area prior to meeting her.

And then, before you can ask “what do they see in each other?” the most melodramatic events in the story – events involving infidelity and infant mortality and suicide – unfold in rapid-fire fashion. The languid character study is just a distant memory.

This is where anyone who dares adapt Hardy needs to tread carefully. In the novel, Hardy has the time to delve deeply into his characters and how their actions are determined by the times, and by their social status. Novels will always have more time to explore such intricacies. My paperback copy of Far From the Madding Crowd runs 480 pages. That gives you a lot of time to weigh three suitors. Vinterberg’s narrative feels tremendously rushed by comparison. Of course, the sheer fact of time is no guarantee of anything. Schlesinger’s 1967 film was significantly longer and suffered from similar problems. Neither film is able to match the novel’s depth of character.

It’s unfortunate, because Vinterberg is really onto something in the first half. His previous movie, the searing slow-burn mystery The Hunt, captured the often tragic details of seemingly placid communities, and for a while, he builds a similar, though more optimistic, portrait of his rural community. He is aided tremendously by Matthias Schoenaerts as Oak, the brooding and shy farmer who first proposes to Miss Everdene. Schoenaets is not called on to be as explosive here as he was in his breakthrough Bullhead (in 2011), or in his smaller roles in subsequent American films like The Drop or The Loft, and he demonstrates the ability to play understated characters equally well. There is also excellent support from Michael Sheen as the stiff Mr. Boldwood and Jessica Barden as Bathsheba’s companion Liddy. And in Carey Mulligan, Vinterberg has a Bathsheba who actually surpasses Julie Christie’s original. Mulligan makes Bathsheba both noble and childish, smart and impulsive. If she can’t pull off the wild midpoint swings with Sergeant Troy, I tend to lay that blame on director and screenwriter.

I am not as willing to give a pass to Tom Sturridge as the Sergeant. Terence Stamp handled the role with more aplomb in 1967. I think Vinterberg was going for a more nuanced Troy, but Sturridge, without being given very much to work with, never captured it.

I suppose it may be another fifty years before a mainstream movie tackles Hardy’s novel again. When they do, I’d suggest they try it without Sergeant Troy. On the surface, that’s a rather silly suggestion, since Sergeant Troy is central to the second half narrative. But two potentially good movies – movies with a lot of good material in them – have now been sabotaged by the abrupt shift into heightened melodrama signaled by Troy’s arrival. Whoever approaches it next runs a genuine risk of a third strike.

Written By:

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 15.23.06

Jonathan Eig
@rockynrudy
Huffington Post
CurnBlog
Full Contributor

 

Ruben’s Perspective:

I’d start off with a joke about how all my guy friends mocked me for going to see a “chick flick,” but none of my guy friends even know what movie I’m talking about here. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is a period piece set in late 19th/early 20th century England and it’s a story about sheep farms, or, more precisely, the trials and tribulations of the improbably attractive people who run the farms.

I know I’ve probably lost you, the thought of a movie about sheep farmers is practically irresistible. It’s truly an untapped market for Hollywood who’s been buried by the copious amounts of digital rubble created by all the destruction porn these days. But before you rush to buy tickets, read on, because reading is good for the mind.

It was my girlfriend’s birthday, and she chose Madding, but don’t let that fool you about me. I love movies — all movies. And in the same week I watched Madding, I also watched AGE OF ULTRON and ZOMBEAVERS. If I put them in a top three, Madding and Zombeavers would compete for the number two spot, while AoU would be fourth and that week’s episode of Game of Thrones would be number one.

I went into Madding without a single clue as to what it was about. I’d never read the 19th century novel by Thomas Hardy, or seen any of the dozens of adaptations, including a film with General Zod himself, Terrance Stamp. From a fleeting TV commercial, I knew it was a period piece, I knew it had lush scenery, and starred the beautiful and talented Carey Mulligan from DRIVE and AN EDUCATION.

As expected, the movie started off simple enough, the chemistry between Mulligan and Farmer Oak, played by the epically named Matthias Schoenaerts drew me in from the first frame. I enjoyed the early moments, but prepared for the long haul of suffragette-era romance, and that maybe a nap wouldn’t be so bad, but soon, one macabre scene drew me in. And from then on, I allowed Madding to take me on an intriguing, character-driven ride.

In an era where many movies at the cinema are all CG and no substance, Madding Crowd is a welcome film which tells its story in a precise, controlled, and skilled way. Danish Cinamatographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen and Director Thomas Vinterberg, co-founder of the Dogme 95 movement along with Lars Von Trier, crafted a movie which at times glides along like a moving painting.

I tend to like or not like films for a variety of reasons. I try to explain those reasons in clear, consistent, and (hopefully) clever ways that inform, entertain, and ultimately make you my mind slave. If you like a romantic period piece, a well-crafted movie, or sheep farming, or if you just want a break from CG devastation and non-stop one-liner jokes, Far From the Madding Crowd is in a crowd of great choices.

Written by:

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Ruben R. Diaz
@RMartain
Freelance Contributor

 

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2 Comments


  1.  
    Nancy.

    I was really looking forward to seeing this film. Do You still recommend it worth seeing?




    •  
      Jon

      If you enjoy period melodrama, it is an entertaining, well acted and beautifully filmed movie. Neither the story nor characters live up to the early promise, which is disappointing, but if you were looking forward to it, you’ll still enjoy it.





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