Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Hardy love quadrangle explored in 'Far From Madding Crowd'

You might call Thomas Hardy's 1874 literary classic, Far From the Madding Crowd the grandfather (at least one of them) of the modern romance novel. (Along with just about anything written by the Brontes.)

Set in a wild, rural landscape—Dorset, in the West Country of England—Hardy's story features a strong-willed, rule-breaking heroine loved by three very different men who play out the novelist's recurring themes of love, class, passion and independence.

I was an impressionable teenager when I saw John Schlesinger's 1967 adaptation of the novel with Julie Christie, Alan Bates, and Terence Stamp. I thought it was the most romantic movie I'd ever seen.

I didn't have quite the same rapturous response to the handsome new Thomas Vinterberg film of Far From the Madding Crowd.
Will it be Bachelor Number 1, Number 2, or Number 3?

For one thing, okay, I'm no longer a teen. (And that makes a BIG difference!) For another, Schlesinger's film was some 49 minutes longer than Vinterberg's new version, and it's difficult to compress the scope of Hardy's 460-page book into a concise, digestible two hours.

The plot points tick off right on schedule, but it sometimes feels as if there's not enough time for the emotional weight of the events to fully resonate with the characters (much less the audience).

It's too bad, because Danish filmmaker Vinterberg's excellent last film, The Hunt, was all about emotional nuance.
Mulligan and Schoenaerts

Still, working here from David Nicholls' script, Vinterberg makes a beautiful piece of craftsmanship out of the film. The rolling green hills, rugged seacoast, and stone villages of Dorset (the film was shot almost entirely on location) look splendid and convey Hardy's sense of place.

And the cast is generally persuasive. The non-traditional casting of lively Carey Mulligan as heroine Bathsheba Everdine is very effective. Michael Sheen is excellent as Boldwood, the wealthy but edgy bachelor next door.

But it's the sturdy and seductive performance by Matthias Schoenaerts as a suitor aptly-named Gabriel Oak, who becomes the backbone of the film.

It's in the subplot concerning bachelor number 3, dashing cavalry officer Sgt. Troy (Tom Sturridge, last seen as the painter Millais in Effie Gray), that the movie founders a bit.

Bathsheba might be swept away by the first taste of raw passion she's ever known, but it's unconvincing that this independent-minded woman would be married to him within a few scant minutes of screen time, and utterly baffling that she's regretting her decision (in a heart-to-heart with Gabriel) before the wedding feast is even over.

It doesn't help that the filmmakers can't decide of Troy is simply a cad or a man wounded by a tragic former love affair. Sturridge gamely plays him either way, as the scene demands, but he can't find anything deeper in the character than a certain pouty haughtiness. (Read more)

Just for laughs, look at the poster for the 1967 version, packaged as a potboiler romance. Don't even get me started on Julie Christie's Swinging London minidress and hairstyle!

Btw, my favorite screen version of Hardy's novel is still Tamara Drewe. Netflix it now!

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