Release date: 1 May 2015
Running time: 119 min
Director: Thomas Vinterburg
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple.
Following in the footsteps of his much celebrated home-grown drama The Hunt, Thomas Vinterburg has opted for slightly safer territory with the second cinematic incarnation of Thomas Hardy’s novel. Hardly a month goes by where UK cinemas don’t seem to be screening a period drama of some kind. Last month’s Suite Francais even shares Madding Crowd star Matthias Schoenaerts in a similarly stoic role, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that they hardly differ from one to the next. Luckily Vinterburg seems to get it, and injects the formula with just the right amount of vitality to distance this from the usual paint-by-numbers costume drama.
When the young, care-free Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan) inherits her deceased uncle’s farm, she gets instantly gets to work to reinstate it to its former glory. After making a positive impression on the farm hands, it’s not long before she begins to cause a stir elsewhere, and a fiercely competitive love triangle begins to emerge. The neighbouring farm master Mr Boldwood (Sheen) is older but persistent, cad soldier Mr Troy (Sturridge) is as adept with a sword as he is with words, and sheep farmer Mr Oak (Schoenaerts), is non-existent when comes to his social status, his proposal of marriage she spurned before inheriting her fortune.
Those familiar with Hardy’s novel will be in for no real surprises here, and those who are unfamiliar will hardly be flabbergasted by the unfurling of the plot. The conclusion is inevitable, and those who avoid period drama aren’t likely to find anything of interest here, but it is a solid example of the genre. The performances are uniformly impressive, with Mulligan’s fiercely independent but frustratingly naive Bathsheba a highlight. Sheen impresses too as man of composure who slowly but surely comes apart at the seams, tormented by her mixed messages and struggling with loneliness.
However the star of the show is undoubtedly cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, whom Vintergurg had also collaborated with on The Hunt. Far from the Madding Crowd is a delight to behold; from the hazy golden hues of the magic hour illuminating the hills, to Troy’s bright red jacket appearing amidst a electric green, dew-ridden forest, it’s consistently impressive. Craig Armstrong’s rousing score also compliments the visuals admirably, never straying too far into the realm of melodramatic strings.
There is still a reluctance to engage with her character too deeply, with some of her decisions seeming rash or unclear, which perhaps leaves you feeling a little cold by its close. Although as Bathsheba says in her most iconic line; ‘it is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.’ Perhaps it is little wonder that Christensen’s cinematoraphy is what most endures.