Far From the Madding Crowd

Cert (UK): 12

Runtime: 119 minutes

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge

Rating: ***

It's never easy making a film based on a classic novel which has already been shot and in turn created a classic film. Following John Schlesinger’s 1967 adaptation is inevitably going to lead to comparisons and this is exactly what happens; as one sits watching this movie there is the desire to compare and contrast with what was has gone before.

Nevertheless Thomas Vinterberg has a fair crack at this re-make though it's without its flaws.  The film moves at a faster pace then the original from one famous scene or moment to another, not often lingering on the Dorset countryside or the way of life that was changing in rural Britain at the time and which is often a theme that runs through Hardy’s books. Indeed some pivotal moments such as Bathsheba’s wedding day are very condensed and scenes such as Sergeant's Troy’s secret performance as Dick Turpin at the local fair with his new wife in the audience totally eliminated from the screenplay.

Where this version succeeds is in its attempt to get much closer to the characters and this quest is very well supported by a great performance from Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba and Michael Sheen as the beleaguered Mr Boldwood, who becomes infatuated with Bathsheba after she sends him a Valentine's card more out of entertainment than meaning.

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Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen

The tale is one of love, passion and infatuation, and how small gestures and events can turn any one of these into a life changing force. Bathesheba has two  suitors other than Mr Boldwood, the gallant but conceited Sergeant Troy played by Tom Sturridge, and the stable, honest and hardworking Gabriel Oak. It is Oak who initially proposes and is rejected by her, but who then sees his own livelihood destroyed by the loss of his entire flock of sheep and eventually ends up working for her, but all the time ensuring he his protecting her best interests, at times despite herself.

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Carey Mulligan and Tom Sturridge

The role of Gabriel Oak is the constant that runs through the story, the very name evoking a sense of good and strength, which will ultimately prevail. Whereas in the original Alan Bates delivered this role to great effect, somewhat strangely Matthias Schoenaerts, a Belgian has been given the part and it does feel as if he is thinking very hard about trying to get his accent right, which leads to a rather careful and at times unconvincing portrayal.

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Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan

The highlight of the film is undoubtedly Carey Mulligan who delivers a very different Bathesheba from Julie Christie’s.  Here Bathsheba whilst young, also has a determination and wisdom beyond her years and a genuine interest in making her farm a going concern. Where Mulligan totally succeeds is in her ability to draw out Bathsheba’s fallibilities when it comes to matters of the heart and how this ultimately impacts on the farm, with devastating consequences on those around her.

So is this worth seeing?  Well, yes based purely on Mulligan’s performance alone but there is more to the film than that. Where it falls down is the weak characterisation surrounding Gabriel Oak and the sense that there is more we could have seen about the countryside and people who lived in it. A good watch, a decent attempt at re-making a classic but not perfect.

Written by Howard Groves.