Back on May 1st, this latest adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 19th century novel, was being offered up as the “adult alternative”, to the over-hyped and over-stuffed “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. It was a shrewd marketing campaign, aiming the film at more mature folks, not interested in seeing superheroes pound bad guys for two-and-a-half hours. And “Far from the Madding Crowd” (appropriate title for this “face-off”, don’t you think?), did respectable worldwide box office–but nothing approaching the one-point-four BILLION dollar take, of Marvel’s blockbuster sequel. Here’s the thing though: I enjoyed these wildly disparate features, roughly the same amount. Neither should be considered great filmmaking, but both have something to offer for their respective audiences.
Bathsheba Everdene (the marvelous Carey Mulligan) inherits a large farm in 1870 Victorian England, and needs to learn fast how to run it. She enlists the help of her farming neighbor, Gabriel Oak (the GREAT Matthias Schoenaerts), who once proposed marriage to her back when she was simply a worker on her relative’s land. Even though she politely declined at the time, their current mutual respect is glaringly apparent. With Gabriel’s help, the farm manages to flourish, despite some difficult trials. And Bathsheba proves to by a stern, but fair, mistress. But soon the advances of a “jilted” soldier (the capable Tom Sturridge as Frank Troy) and a wealthy, elder bachelor ( a too obvious Michael Sheen as William Boldwood) threatens to unravel the prosperity of the working estate.
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg made a splash with 2013’s “The Hunt”, and he was rewarded for an Oscar Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for that one. Mr. Vinterberg does an admirable helming job for “Far from the Madding Crowd”, but it still comes across as a bit truncated and overly genteel. But what it lacks in fire, it makes up for with a strong and confident performance from the wonderful Carey Mulligan–in a role that Julie Christie made famous in 1967. The exceptional Matthais Schoenarts, a handsome and superb international actor, is subtle, yet exacting, as the loyal Gabriel Oak. But the usually reliable Michael Sheen seems miscast, and Tom Sturridge is too over-the-top. Hey, this is still a crowd-pleasing romance charmer. It’s not only pretty good–but there’s not a cape or an iron suit in sight.