VOD film review: Far from the Madding Crowd
Ivan Radford | On 11, Sep 2015
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen
Watch Far from the Madding Crowd online in the UK: Disney+ / Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“Did you love him, miss?” Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan) is asked of a former suitor. “Oh no,” comes the reply. “But I did rather like him.” The man they’re talking of is Gabriel (Matthias Schoenaerts), a farmer who picks up her scarf one day and falls head over heels – only to have his marriage proposal rejected.
A woman rejecting a man? It might not sound like your typical costume drama, but Thomas Hardy’s tale is a surprisingly contemporary tale, following Miss Everdene (her surname inspiring The Hunger Games’ heroine), as she inherits her father’s estate, only to find herself the target of three suitors. Effectively wealthy, impressively independent and equally beautiful, she bats them off with a casual air, giving reasons such as not needing a husband. Of course, she’s right: she doesn’t.
Carey Mulligan is the perfect fit for the thoroughly modern madame, her quietly mature presence able to make Bathsheba seem like a teenager and a world-worn widow both at the same time; the moment when she sends a joking Valentine’s letter to older bachelor William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) is accompanied by a coy giggle, while her dealings with the dismissive men who want to buy her farm’s grain are carried out with a stubborn dignity.
Even the costumes emphasise that timeless, ageless, forward-thinking quality, by nudging the setting forward just enough to allow for leather riding gear, which Everdene sports with a bow and arrow – the kind of thing that wouldn’t seem all that out of place today. For many, though, the film’s topicality will only bring to mind the iconic performance of Julie Christie in John Schlesinger’s older version. Vinterberg may shoot events with a more traditional, sun-kissed eye than expected, but he makes a point of moving on from the earthy past with a crisp, yet stylish air; the moment when Bathsheba is seduced by soldier Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), who whips his sword around her in the woods like an outtake from an adult Zhang Yimou movie, unfolds with a strangely erotic charge.
Amid the tightly condensed runtime, it’s in these small moments that Far from the Madding Crowd finds fresh strength. Schoenaerts and Mulligan’s exchanges crackle with chemistry, while Sheen is quietly devastating as the surprisingly sympathetic Boldwood, barely saying a word while his beard oozes heartbreak. Vinterberg’s is a restrained passion that makes Hardy’s period drama feel all the more up-to-date. We open on a shot of a dark barn, a shaft of light framing Bathsheba against the dim historical surroundings. Some may only rather like it, but take it out of the shadow of other suitors, and there is much about this adaptation to love.
Far from the Madding Crowd is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.