Adaptation Drama

'Far from the Madding Crowd' Film Review: A retelling of Thomas Hardy's classic for the Downton Abbey generation

May 1, 2015Ben MK

"It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language chiefly made by men to express theirs."

As is customary in Hollywood, it's often desirable to put a fresh coat of paint on an old classic. Take, for instance, Thomas Hardy's Victorian-era novel, "Far from the Madding Crowd." Initially published in 1874, it was most memorably brought to the screen in director John Schlesinger's 1967 film, which starred Julie Christie and Terence Stamp. Now its latest incarnation has arrived in theaters, courtesy of director Thomas Vinterberg and starring Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge.

Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, a headstrong and independent young heiress who finds herself the object of desire for three very different suitors — noble shepherd Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts), who asks for her hand in marriage almost immediately after meeting her; wealthy landowner William Boldwood (Sheen), a man nearly twenty years her senior, who becomes smitten with her after receiving a misguided Valentine's card; and bad boy Frank Troy (Sturridge), a Sergeant in her Majesty's army, who also happens to be nursing a broken heart, the result of being jilted by his sweetheart, Fanny Robin (Juno Temple).

Three potential husbands, but which one to choose? If this were The Bachelorette, a rose ceremony might be in order. But alas, this is 1870 Dorset, England, and since reality television isn't due for another 130 or so years, Bathsheba must make do. Invariably, however, her romantic choices prove regrettable; hence she must try and try again until she finally finds her Mr. Right. The problem is that audiences will likely find the answer to her relationship dilemmas excruciatingly obvious at the outset, so watching all of this unfold can grow a bit tiresome.

Despite these minor shortcomings, it's easy to fall in love with the film's lush visuals and stately score. Screenwriter David Nicholls has done a commendable job distilling the essence of Hardy's novel down to a relatively spry two-hour runtime (a feat in and of itself, considering the 1967 version ran nearly three hours long). However, it's the cast that deserves the lion's share of the praise, especially Mulligan, whose portrayal of Bathsheba is instantly relatable, imbued with a warmth and an eloquence that few actors of her generation are capable of. All in all, it makes for such an enthralling moviegoing experience that even Thomas Hardy himself would be proud.

Far From the Madding Crowd releases May 1st, 2015 from Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for some sexuality and violence. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 59 Mins.

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