Film review: Far From The Madding Crowd

PUBLISHED: 19:46 30 April 2015

Far from the Madding Crowd. Picture: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Far from the Madding Crowd. Picture: Fox Searchlight Pictures

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Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of this classic novel is by the book, but without its original magic, says Michael Joyce.

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Mattias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Jessica Bardem and Juno Temple
Film Length: 119 mins

A strange ritual happens whenever a screen performer of talent is unearthed – they get shoved into everything and after approximately eight major film roles in two years you’ve forgotten what it was that caught your attention in the first place.

This is Schoenaerts’ monthly film appearance. His breakthrough was the fierce Belgian drama Bullhead, which nobody saw except everybody who needed to, and those that did see it have been scrambling to get him into every film going ever since. In American films he seems to the neighbourhood born, but English roles really put the stilts up him.

Mulligan hasn’t been in a film for a year and a half and I think we both needed the break. Now you can again see the qualities that made her such a revelation in An Education. Few performers radiate life and vitality like she does, it practically bursts out of the screen. Those big rosy cheeks of hers glow fiercely for the entire two hours, to help her play a woman that three men ask to marry, more or less, the moment they set eyes on her. She captivates attention but seems inadequate for the role. Her Everdeen isn’t a strong enough figure to warrant centre point in Hardy’s great machination of improbable coincidence and “oh fancy seeing you here, and now of all times,” tragic ironies.

The modern trend in costume dramas is to give them a modern day vitality, as if they’d been filmed on location in the 19th century. Vinterberg’s (Festen, The Hunt) take on Hardy doesn’t really offer that, but neither does it offer up the more traditional pastoral pleasures of the historical drama. The moment when Sergeant Troy dazzles Bathsheba with his swordplay in the wood at night has a bit of dash and daring to it, but mostly the film plods earnestly and respectfully along.

It seems to me that Vinterberg has turned in a crib sheet version of Far From the Madding Crowd. By the end of it you will know what happens in Hardy’s book, but not why readers have flocked to it for over 140 years.

Rating: 2/5 stars

For a review of Orson Welles Chimes at Midnight and the blu-ray release of Fellini Satyricon, go to halfmanhalfcritic.weebly.com

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