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Far From the Madding Crowd
by Jordan Canahai
For viewers looking for a worthwhile film with strong feminist overtones but found Mad Max: Fury Road to contain one too many maimed corpses for comfort, director Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic 19th century novel Far From the Madding Crowd contains all the literary staples one could hope for in a period romantic drama; there’s Victorian era costumes, lots of thick English accents, various love affairs, a secret wedding, a person thought dead who dramatically returns, a crime of passion, did I mention various love affairs?
David Nichols’ screenplay concerns heroine Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), an independent, headstrong English woman who comes to inherit a small fortune and a sheep farm. With this turn of events she catches the eye of three different suitors, each possessing remarkable facial hair, it must be said. There’s the kind sheep farmer whom she employs, Gabriel (Matthias Schoenaerts); a wealthy, middle-aged neighboring farmer and the most eligible bachelor in the county, William (Michael Sheen); and a dashing young soldier, Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), whose bravado masks a broken heart following his falling out with one of Bathsheba’s servant girls (Juno Temple).
Audiences can pretty much surmise what they’re getting with this one from those last couple paragraphs. Still, there’s enough impressive filmmaking, strong performances, and a worthwhile protofeminist theme throughout Far From the Madding Crowd that aid in the film rising above the genre clichés and predictability inherent in the melodramatic material. The Swedish Vinterberg’s direction displays the confidence of a talented journeyman. He shoots the material in a stately and straightforward manner that effectively captures both the picaresque English locales as well as the strong performances of his impressive cast. He also beautifully realizes the famous scene in which Sergeant Troy woos Bathsheba by nearly flaying her alive with a blade he assured her was dull. It could have been a scene of great unintentional comedy but through the force of the filmmaking is charged with genuine eroticism.
Mulligan also must be singled out for doing some very fine and unusual work here. Rather than play Bathsheba as a woman unaware of the natural charisma that makes her such a catch, she instead infuses the character with a plainspoken, steely reserve that masks her romantic longing. True to Hardy’s novel, Bathsheba ultimately comes to learn she never much needed a man to begin with, which makes her like many single millennial woman of today. With that said, we should at least hope she goes for the nice guy who looks kinda like Ryan Gosling, am I right?
Watch the trailer for Far from the Madding Crowd
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