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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Movie Review - Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
Starring Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple, and Jessica Barden
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg 

Far from the Madding Crowd is a lushly-lensed romance reminiscent of films shot decades earlier when sweeping Victorian love stories adapted from famous novels were commonplace occurrences in cinemas.  Sometimes these types of films can feel stuffy, slow-moving, and ostentatious, but thanks to a winning performance from Carey Mulligan as a liberated and independent English woman, Far from the Madding Crowd doesn't fall into any of those disappointing stereotypes, instead proving to be surprisingly captivating.

Two hundred miles outside of London in Dorset, Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan) is living with and working on her aunt's farm.  While there, her aunt's neighbor and sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) falls for the stunning Bathsheba, but she does not accept his advances and turns down his offer of marriage.  Bathsheba soon hears that she has inherited a large estate from her uncle following his death, while at the same time Gabriel loses his flock after a new sheep dog leads all of his sheep off a steep cliff into the ocean.  Both Bathsheba and Gabriel leave Dorset thinking they'll never see each other again, but fate works in mysterious ways.  One evening, the barn at Bathsheba's estate catches fire and Gabriel just happened to be walking by at the time, completely unaware that the estate belonged to Bathsheba.  He saves her barn and Bathsheba offers him a job on the estate which he reluctantly accepts seeing as how he still harbors feelings for the young woman.

Against all odds, Bathsheba is making it on her own which doesn't sit well with all the men in her town.  However, her neighbor William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) is immediately taken with her strength and falls for her.  At the same time, English soldier Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) wanders onto her estate and also finds himself taken with Bathsheba.  With three suitors and independence always a goal in her life, Bathsheba faces the difficult question of whether to give herself to love or remain untethered to a man.

Far from the Madding Crowd embraces old school aesthetics and storytelling, yet somehow feels modern and fresh without ever feeling out of place.  Adapted from an 1874 Thomas Hardy novel, part of the "modernness" stems from the fact that Bathsheba is such a headstrong and independent woman.  Not knowing the story at all, I was quite taken by the character of Bathsheba, finding her a refreshing change to female characters we're used to seeing from novels of this one's era.  Carey Mulligan embraces the confidence of the character without ever coming across as overly feminist or off-putting.  The intelligence that radiates from Mulligan's persona is key to the film's plot and she successfully conveys it in what I think is her best role to date.

Next to Mulligan's Bathsheba, the men in the film are written with a little less depth, and as the film tries to give all of them their fair share of time attempting to woo her, it falters a bit towards its conclusion.  However, Far from the Madding Crowd was a wonderful surprise to me.  I expected to be bored silly, but I was anything but that.  Director Thomas Vinterberg has not only crafted a lovely film to look upon, but manages to create a bit of a romantic epic that doesn't feel the least bit tired or stale.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

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