D: Thomas Vinterberg. DP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen. W: David Nicholls. Starring: Carey Mulligan/Matthias Schoenaerts/Michael Sheen/Tom Sturridge/Juno Temple/Jessica Barden/Bradley Hall. (Based on Thomas Hardy’s novel of the same name)
Heading into summer we are hit with a barrage of huge films, from budget to scope to locale. Thankfully smaller gems can pop up between these colossal projects and hit you right where you need it to. Far From the Madding Crowd does just that, flaws and all.
David Nicholls adapts Thomas Hardy’s monthly serialized novel that was then published in novel form in 1874. A novelist and screenwriter himself, Nicholls has adapted two of his own novels into films, Starter for Ten and One Day. I do not know which is more stressful, adapting your own work or that of a great writer like Hardy. Nonetheless, Nicholls is deft here at condensing the novel’s time and cutting out smaller tangents that the film logistically cannot tackle. Following the rise of Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) as she comes to fortune in her own right in 1870 rural England. A small voice over in the beginning of the film lends voice to Bathsheba’s acknowledgement of her independence despite her time, a moment she is never given in the third person written novel.
As I write this review I am listening to Craig Armstrong’s score, is there higher praise for a film composer? A frequent Baz Luhrman collaborator, Armstrong’s score is just the right augmentation for what is on screen. His use of violins is exquisite while its solos matching the tumultuous heroine of the film. Juggling three suitors while asserting her own responsibilities as mistress, Bathsheba has no easy task. Mulligan is the right amount of rural beauty here, a beauty routinely mentioned and harped in the novel. The faults of the film don’t lie with her or two of her suitors.
Michael Sheen’s neighbor farm master Boldwood is the most stirring performance in the film. Tasked with the most layered of men, his balance of desperation and practicality brings Boldwood out into the forefront of the film. Not to be outmatched is Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts whose quite physicality as farmer Gabriel Oak does the novel and the heroine justice. Not much can be said for Tom Sturridge who gets the sillier lover part, but he does manage to bring compassion to his love for little Fanny Robbin played by Juno Temple. Temple is long overdue for a massive film lead.
Janet Patterson, an Australian costume designer who has been Oscar nominated four times, brings tremendous skill in her expertise of the 19th century. Responsible for films such as 1996’s The Portrait of a Lady, Patterson clearly illustrates the connection between garments and a ladies’ status. In this rural life Bathsheba stands out, but not too far and the farm itself appears effortlessly dressed as it should.
Unfortunately, the film is shot rather inconsistently. Brilliant stretches of farmland are captured with amazing sequences of Bathsheba riding. However the rhythm of the film is lost many times, maybe through miscommunications between cinematographer and director. Specifically, a pivotal forest sequence although at times beautiful is shot so strangely and edited so similarly to the meadow sequence of Twilight (yes I am gasping too) it nearly ruins the mood. Other persnickety flaws exists to do with accents and story changes, but overall Far From the Madding Crowd is a worthy adaptation.