Don’t be fooled by the illustrious source material: Far from the Madding Crowd may be adapted from Thomas Hardy’s canonical 19th-century novel, but it’s still a movie that opens with Carey Mulligan on a pony galloping toward a rainbow. Set in a patch of rural England located somewhere between Downton Abbey and Danielle Steel, this new take runs a full 40 minutes shorter than John Schlesinger’s 1967 edition but feels packed with twice the marriage proposals, longing looks and reversals of fortune.
A headstrong country girl who’s “too wild to be a governess,” Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan) is introduced via the doe-eyed stares of her strapping neighborhood sheep farmer, Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts, fast becoming the modern Fabio). He offers his hand and a comfortable life, yet she rebuffs him (“I’d hate to be some man’s property”), only to inherit a fortune while Gabriel loses his. It isn’t long before she’s moved up in the world and he has come under her employ, their silently mutual lust simmering in the background as Bathsheba meets a host of new admirers, including the bitter Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge) and the rich, introverted William Boldwood (Michael Sheen).
Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) has always enjoyed thumbing his nose at stuffy cinematic conventions, and while he’s obviously enchanted by Hardy’s text, his movie is fun because he’s keen not to give it too much respect. The soap opera eventually gets so frothy that some of Bathsheba’s suitors are lost amid the suds (and the gorgeous cinematography), but Mulligan’s commanding performance is an easy beacon to follow, her Bathsheba caught between the vulnerability of youth and the strength of knowing her own value. You can feel the blood flushing behind her face. Troy is a slimy proto-hipster scalawag, but it’s a pleasure to watch Bathsheba weigh his vanity against Oak’s more earthy charms and suss out which of them is more real to her. “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs,” Bathsheba declares, but Mulligan helps the character to find a voice of her own.
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Cast and crew