7 May 2015 | bob-the-movie-man
X-rated for sheep
Based on Thomas Hardy's classic novel (which I much shamefully admit I have never read), Far From the Madding Crowd tells the tale of Bathsheba Everdene's rags-to-riches rise to become a farm-owner in rural Dorset in the 1870's, the title coming from the fact that Dorset is a long way from the hustle and bustle of London "200 miles away" as the opening title incorrectly declares - the longest direct driving route I could find was 155 miles!
Bathsheba is a magnet to men with her feisty and independent behaviour, and the film documents the "love square" between her and three men in her life: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), the hunk of a farm manager; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), the wealthy neighbouring landowner; and Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), a dashing Han-Solo style rogue, flash-as-you-like in his scarlet army uniform.
In reviewing this film I need to declare a couple of loves.
Firstly, Dorset. Of all the English counties, this has to be one of the most glorious. Green rolling hills, dramatic coastline such as that at Golden Cap (featured in the film), quaint villages and – most importantly in this context – gorgeously photogenic. Hopefully, this might tempt more visitors to stop there rather than 'driving on through' to Devon and Cornwall for their holidays.
Secondly, and with apologies to the wife, Carey Mulligan. To be clear, this is not a sordid sexually-motivated affair (although there was THAT shower-scene in "Shame") but a deep love of her acting talents and screen presence. This is a love affair long in the making, beginning ten years ago with her startling presence in Bleak House at the age of 20 (looking much, much younger); her stunning minx-like Dr Who performance as Sally Sparrow in "Blink"; and on through her breakout movie performance in "An Education" in 2009.
Where Mulligan excels is in roles where she can play a strong, confident and independent woman, so the role of Bathsheba is perfect for her. She is utterly believable as the 1870's landowner holding her own against the men-folk, and even pulling off the somewhat out-of-character plot twist half-way through the film.
The supporting cast is also excellent. The ever-reliable Sheen ("The Queen"; "Frost/Nixon") delivers a heart-breaking performance as the love-lorn Boldwood; Schoenaerts (recently in "Suite Française") is manly enough with a scythe to no doubt set female hearts a flutter; and Sturridge is deliciously unpleasant in his powerful role.
Above all, this is just a crackingly good story, through David ("One Day") Nicholls's tight screenplay. If you decide to avoid this film because it is "old stuff", think again. The roller-coaster ride of the plot gives UK and US 'soaps' a good run for their money in the drama stakes, and the denouement is both surprising and satisfying.
Direction is by the relatively unknown (to me at least) Thomas Vinterberg ("The Hunt"), but big kudos needs to go to Vinterburg's collaborator Charlotte Bruus Christensen for the stunning cinematography: some of the scenes (notably the harvesting scene towards the end of the movie) are bucolically gorgeous.
Also worth noting is the soundtrack by the brilliant but sparingly used Craig Armstrong ("Love Actually", "The Great Gatsby") which is luscious and suits the film to a tee. The woodland rendezvous scene makes your hair stand on end and this is largely down to the music combined with Claire Simpson's excellent editing.
I struggle to find aspects to criticise. I was gripped, and suitably shocked at the right moments, which is just what you want for a good night out at the movies. Having already praised the cinematography, one gripe I would have is with the lens flare at the end of the film (natural this time, rather than of the JJ Abrams variety) which was annoyingly distracting to me in the closing scene: but I recognise this is a personal complaint that I might be alone in.
Just a word of warning as well for animal lovers: that despite it being a UK 12A certificate, there are some pretty torrid scenes with sheep and a dog that might upset sensitive viewers - perhaps it should have been given a "Ewe" certificate (that joke will only work for UK readers!).
In summary, this is a treat for a more elderly audience, but should be a must see for audiences of all ages as a rollicking good tale, well told and beautifully shot.
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