After the accomplished 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp, you do wonder if there’s any real need for stepping back into this world again – especially when not modernising the narrative, instead presenting this tale in the era it’s set. However, with Thomas Vinterberg at the helm – the co-founder of the avant-garde filmmaking movement Dogme 95, intrigue kicks in, as the idea of seeing such an innovative, enterprising director on board suddenly deems this entire project worthy.
Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, a strong-willed, independent woman who leaves behind a humble existence to take over her late uncle’s farm. Having denied the marriage proposal of the diligent sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), that doesn’t stop her hiring the reticent worker, but he finds himself in competition with a local, introverted bachelor William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) for her affections. They aren’t the only two either, as the impetuous soldier Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge) also fancies his chances, leaving Bathsheba in a position where she must choose the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with.
This endearingly simplistic tale is as relevant now as it ever has been, surviving off its universal themes and perennial narrative. However, despite being timeless in many regards, here’s a film that should play well to a contemporary crowd, and tap into a current market where feminist issues and equality are prevalent themes. Bathsheba is a headstrong, individualistic woman who remains in charge of her own affairs, and it’s a role that Mulligan excels in. The actress has a difficult challenge of playing a character that is supposed to have men falling at her feet, but you adhere to this notion every step of the way, such is her beguiling, graceful screen presence, and self-determining demeanour.
Vinterberg has done a fine job adapting this tale, with a film that is enchanting, moving, funny and profound. He may have come from an experimental background, but in this instance the Danish director abides affectionately to the tropes of the period drama, and yet this never feels tedious, remaining fresh in spite of the conventionality on show. One of the only criticisms is the casting – as it’s difficult to envisage why our protagonist would choose anybody but Schoenaerts. Doused in mud and sweat, and with a brooding, pensive nature, here’s an actor on the verge of a worldwide Ryan Gosling-esque man crush.