Classic British literature has developed the image of being stuffy and overly dramatic, especially in the eyes of every “modern” audience that comes around to turn its nose up to it. Yet the reason these stories are classic is because of the tales that they tell, filled with issues that even the modern viewer can identify with. If they didn’t possess that key element, they certainly wouldn’t continue to be re-made or re-imagined, and if there ever was a film that would understand that, it’s Thomas Vinterberg’s exemplary remake of Far From The Madding Crowd.
Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a woman with her head on her shoulders and a farm to keep in business. But even with her headstrong ways and her wit and wisdom about her, she’s still human - and it’s her humanity that will lead her to consider three different men in her life. Will she fall for Gabriel (Matthias Schoenaerts,) the stoic shepherd; Francis (Tom Sturridge,) the cocky and impulsive Sergeant; or William (Michael Sheen,) the wealthy landowner? Fate will pull her every which way, but will Bathsheba make the right choice for herself, as well as her business?
Blame the recent fever Downton Abbey has caused for period dramas like this, or blame the combination of an excellent cast and a brilliant director, but Far From The Madding Crowd is one of the best viewing experiences I’ve had this year. A huge part of that is the fact that cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen paints the film’s inherently dramatic story with some of the most beautiful natural colors available. The photography in this film is on par with some of the best nature documentaries, which suits a story about a woman who knows the land like the back of her hand perfectly.
Matching the beauty of the surroundings is the absolutely brilliant performance from Carey Mulligan, which anchors this film into solid territory. With the supporting trio of Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, and Michael Sheen, Mulligan puts all of these exemplary performers in her orbit and makes them work even better with her natural charm. Not one of these cast members phones it in, even if it would have been easy for Sheen to go a little more desperate with his portrayal of William, a man consistently unlucky in love. The same goes for Sturridge, who takes a role that could be a mere sneering villain and turns it into that of a flawed man who, while being a total cad, still has some humanity in him. But perhaps the best of Mulligan’s male counterparts is Schoenaerts, whose Gabriel Oak is truly in love with Bathsheba, but doesn’t let that fact get in the way of the business at hand.
Still, this is Mulligan’s movie, and it is because of her immense talent and quiet beauty that Far From The Madding Crowd succeeds at its best. Thomas Vinterberg’s fresh take on a time worn classic proves that even the most retold stories can be new and enjoyable, so long as an auteur brings the right talent and angle to the table. Fox Searchlight continues to ramp up some early awards buzz with this film, and if Carey Mulligan isn’t at least shortlisted for Best Actress by the middle of the year, then there truly isn’t any justice in this town. If you love realistic, character driven drama, as well as beautiful English countrysides and naturalistic lighting, Far From The Madding Crowd will take you away from the noise and clash of the summer box office.