Directed by Thomas Vinterberg.
There is certainly something to be said for production versus innovation. There is nothing innovative about this film. What there is, however, is a highly polished film from a genre we are all familiar with, if not a little tired of. This is not a film made by an artist, but rather by a craftsman, and what a marvellous craftsman Vinterberg is.
Far from the Madding Crowd is an adaptation of a proto-feminist novel by Thomas Hardy. We follow Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) and her impossible pursuit of independence in a very much man’s world. She meets the handsome, salt of the earth shepherd, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), while working on her aunt’s farm. He proposes to her, but she rejects them on the grounds of maintaining her independence. She then inherits her uncle’s estate and hires him as her shepherd. As the mistress of this large estate she is subject to the affections of two other men, another estate owner, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and a handsome young Sergeant, Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). Can Bathsheba maintain her independence while fulfilling her human need for love?
This film is nothing short of predictable and we see at least one of these nineteenth-century romances, however, this is a very well made one. Carey Mulligan gives a masterclass in the close-up and the attention of the eyes as Bathsheba and does an excellent job of fleshing out, what in the hands of a lesser actor could be, a two-dimensional faux heroine. Matthias Schoenaerts’ Gabriel Oak is the classic archetypical combination of strong silent and caring, and he pulls this off with aplomb. Michael Sheen’s subtle and detailed performance, as William Boldwood, gives you a real sense of a full life that we are not a part of. He is a real interesting watch as a supporting actor. I feel that Tom Sturridge’s performance is a little caricaturesque, as a “baddie” and is some of the reason for the lagging third act.
Although it is nowhere near award season I’m going to predict a nomination for both production design and costume design. This film really is stunning to look at and does so without following the fashion of high contrast costume design, circa Wes Anderson. At times I found the score overbearing and intrusive, which is surprising for Thomas Vinterberg, a founder of Dogme 95, which can hammer the classic romance clichés a bit too hard. Overall the direction is sensitive, following the emotional turmoil of the characters through the use of colour and playing with the depth of field, which is perfectly suited to the story. What lets it down is a third act that is simultaneously rushed and lagging and a sub-par performance from Tom Sturridge.
This film feels like a beautiful landscape painting. Nothing you haven’t seen before, but impeccably done.