FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: Carey Mulligan Deserved A Better Film Surrounding Her

by Elizabeth Stoddard

Far From The Madding Crowd hits theaters in Austin on May 8th, 2015

The night of the promo screening for Far From the Madding Crowd was stormy; thunder pounded through the roof of the theater, waves of rain pelted hard above us, and phones in the audience sporadically blared emergency alert signals. The power had flickered off before the movie began, and the audience, though small in number, seemed a tad dazed. I mainly use this as preface to my review because with all the auditory disturbance, this was not your typical sneak preview.

Danish director Thomas Vinterberg helms this adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel about class, romance and the limited world for women in the late 19th Century. The film opens in Dorset in 1870, where shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) first meets young Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan). He proposes and she rebuffs him, saying, “I don’t want a husband. I’d hate to be somebody’s property.”

Time passes and they meet again after she inherits a farm from her uncle. Their stories are presented in a sort of parallel: as she has gained fortune, he has lost it. Mulligan plays Bathsheba as headstrong and determined, although unsure of what she wants in a partner… or if she desires a partner at all. Her friend Liddy (Jessica Barden) reminds her of their different stations in life in telling Bathsheba, “What a luxury to have a choice.”

Bathsheba is courted by two other men — jilted soldier Troy (Tom Sturridge) and older wealthy landowner Boldwood (Michael Sheen) — all while Gabriel waits in the friendzone for her to realize how wonderful he is. During a low-lit forest scene, Bathsheba becomes so bewitched by the soldier’s sexy swordplay, she quickly chooses him to marry.

Screenwriter David Nicholls and actress Mulligan have done such a good job convincing us of Bathsheba’s independence and strong will that here’s where the film starts to unravel. Never mind that Mulligan and Sturridge lack chemistry, although that is a problem.

Bathsheba is a fascinating character, getting into the sheep dip with her male employees, spouting memorable lines as she does in the novel. After her marriage, she loses momentum and becomes less a woman who makes things happen and more the kind of female character that things happen to. Only in the end — after much drama surrounding her — does she come to make her own decisions again.

The director makes some strange technical decisions that also keep this film from being much more than a run-of-the-mill literary adaptation. The costuming is vibrant (with some amazing hats!), but Far From the Madding Crowd at times uses unnecessary zoom-in shots and off-kilter framing. The overall pacing is off (What year is it now? Who knows?), so towards the finale our distracted audience was enough removed from the action onscreen that a few people laughed at inappropriate moments.

Far From the Madding Crowd has great potential, but doesn’t make the most of it. Too bad, really. Bathsheba deserves more.

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