Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, Michael Sheen
Other than action veteran Jason Statham and “so hot right now” Oscar Isaacs, there has been no-one more ubiquitous than Matthias Schoenaerts in 2015 UK cinema previews. Following stellar performances in Suite Francaise and A Little Chaos, the rising Belgian star now appears opposite the fantastic Carey Mulligan in this gorgeous adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s literary classic. Beautifully shot and accompanied by charming performances, Thomas Vinterburg’s Far From The Madding Crowd is a splendidly handsome film in almost all regards.
The tale revolves around the fiery Bathsheba Everdene’s struggle to run her newly inherited estate and retain her independence, whilst entangled in a love quadrangle of 19th Century marriage proposals from three prospective suitors: the loyal shepherd Gabriel Oak (Schoenearts), the world-weary landowner Mr Boldwood (Sheen) and the silver-tongued Sergeant Troy (Sturridge). In keeping with Hardy’s source material, the film unfolds with reverential pride in its 1870s Dorset setting, from the rolling hills and warm wheatfields to the wet woodlands and cold cliff tops. Far From The Madding Crowd is a cinematic experience that should have been cross promoted with the Woodland Trust or English Heritage, its beatific depiction of the countryside just begs you to get up after the credits and jump into the Great British outdoors.
Vinterburg treads a well-executed line throughout, giving prominence to sweeping landscapes where necessary but avoiding an over-reliance on natural beauty that would otherwise turn the film into a feature length episode of BBC’s Countryfile. Indeed many key scenes take place indoors, either gently nestled in cosy farm cottages or wandering within sumptuous manor houses. These rich interiors more than hold their own against the rural scenery outside, and anyone partial to a good banquet or formal engagement scene (complete with fancy dancing and resplendent period dress) will find much to love over the 2 hour run time. And if that’s not enough, there’s even a little duet between Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen that can only be described as delightful to behold. In fact, the music is fantastic throughout Far From The Madding Crowd, with Golden Globe and Grammy winning composer Craig Armstrong delivering an appropriately elegant soundtrack.
Mulligan and Schoenaerts shine with a magical chemistry, mirroring each other’s contemplative smiles and pensive auras. There are moments where you simply want to reach out and push them together, and similar moments when you feel physically enraged Sergeant Troy and his smooth talking villainy. Although he is well written and fleshed out by screenwriter David Nicholls, Troy suffers from arguably the weakest casting amongst the main talents. Tom Sturridge does a fine job with his performance but unfortunately never quite looks the part of a fully fledged military man, instead appearing like a teenage cadet on parade. This is especially apparent when compared to the tremendously authentic look of his co-stars: the older Sheen with his authentic air of melancholic sorrow and Schoenaerts who looks near-perfect as an experienced outdoorsman with scythe in hand. Special mention must go out to both Juno Temple and Jessica Barden who both excel in their minor roles, particularly Barden as Bathsheba’s infectiously giggly and excitable right-hand.
Far From The Madding Crowd is not quite perfect; it fails to really break any new ground in its approach, struggles with juggling its plot lines at points, and certainly could have done with a dash more Sheen (but then again, couldn’t everything do with a little more of the Welsh treasure?). But what Vinterburg does do right, he does brilliantly. This is the film equivalent of spending a relaxed Bank Holiday weekend in the gentle English sun, sipping a Pimms with family and indulging in the quiet beauty of nature. Simply put: it’s just bloody lovely!
★ ★ ★ ★
4 / 5 stars
Written by James Excell
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Far From The Madding Crowd is on wide release in UK Cinemas now, and on limited release in the USA.