Far From The Madding Crowd
What a great movie this was! Romance and Drama in a riveting package that only the Victorian literary classics can do so well. It succeeded because of the brilliant directing by Thomas Vinterberg (of the underwatched but equally fantastic The Hunt) and the very excellent cast of Cary Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts and Michael Sheen.
This joins the short list of excellent Victorian-aged dramas that succeeded in bringing the book to life, joining the ranks of Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice, Lee Ang's Sense and Sensibility and Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre.
Like all book-to-screen adaptations, expectations have to be appropriate. There is no way that a movie can keep everything - all the themes, side plots, characters - to its 90 - 120 (or even 180) minutes running time. If it was a mini-series, now that, the expectations are different! And Far From The Madding Crowd is no exception.
The film was beautifully shot (The Hunt's Charlotte Bruus Christensen at work again) and the pacing was excellent, with a great amount of story being told in just the first 30 minutes but with no loss of depth from brevity nor lack of sense from condensation. The gorgeous strings and score by Craig Armstrong definitely helped to move the quiet scenes along and was never jarring or intrusive.
However, having said that, unfortunately the weakest link in author's David Nicholls screenplay the relationship between Sergeant Frank Troy and Fanny Robin, and because of that, Troy relationship's with our heroine Bathsheba is less well-explored than that between her and Oak and Boldwood. Troy appeared more like an obstacle rather than a real challenge for her love.
Another fault in the movie was the overall characterisation of Bathsheba. She started off strong - an educated woman who knows what she wants and how she wants it - a feminist ahead of her time, but as the movie progressed and ultimately towards the end, Nicholls and Vinterberg had her reduced to almost just another damsel in need of a man to save her. Thankfully, they had Mulligan.
Mulligan was sublime. Ever since her Oscar-nominated debut in An Education (or even earlier in one of the scariest Doctor Who episode - Blink) she has been churning out great roles, even in not so great movies. But here, she defined Bathsheba. Her strength and her vulnerabilities were all exposed and revealed and translated beautifully across the screen. She was only let down by Nicholls' script, but it was because of the strength that she imbued into her Bathsheba, that she did come off as weak and needy in the end.
I wonder how Thomas Hardy had written Bathsheba.
Schoenaerts and Sheen were Mulligan's worthy sparring partners; sadly not Tom Sturridge.
Schoenaerts, last seen battling it out with Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, was excellent as the quiet, dependent Mr Nice, and thankfully his Belgian accent was not obvious which suited his character. Although his character may seem boring, but Schoenaerts managed to find that warmth and sincerity within that honesty and righteousness. His chemistry with Mulligan was crucial to the backbone of the story and it really did stood out.
Sheen is a class of his own, but pity he was not given much to do. It would have been nice if we could explore the bromance between Boldwood and Oak. Schoenaerts and Sheen had a good vibe going in their few scenes together.
Sadly, Sturridge was a victim of adaptation. Troy's on screen characterisation was paper thin and appeared to be more of a one-dimensional villain rather than the supposedly Romantic that was hinted within. The subplot between Troy and Fanny Robin really ought to have been fleshed out more to give his character depth - which, as fore said, would have given Bathsheba even more complexity.
A great film by a director that interested in character and manages to draw it out of his exceptional cast!
Now let me get to the book!