Far From The Madding Crowd: Mulligan and Sheen steal the show
Such was the pre-release hype surrounding Thomas Vinterburg’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Far From the Madding Crowd that it was already being tipped as a regular fixture on every awards list going come winter time.
Certainly with Vinterburg, an avant garde and highly touted filmmaker, at the helm for his first real foray into mainstream cinema along with a cast that boasted experience and star power in the form of Michael Sheen and Carey Mulligan, the omens did look good.
And while Vinterburg is ultimately unable to bring any of the sort of original ideas and unique perspectives that may have been expected, the film is propped by the performances of its two big name cast members.
Mulligan takes the lead as the headstrong, liberal farm owner Bathsheba Everdeen as she is placed at the centre of three men’s advances, the distant, initially reclusive land owner Boldwood (Sheen), dependable shepherd Gabriel Oak (Mathias Schoenaerts) and the cocky, brash Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge).
The film certainly doesn’t wow from the outset. Throughout the first hour, the plot feels frenetic, jumping from scene to scene without any real sort of direction. Clearly, Vinterburg wanted to try and stay true as much as possible to Thomas Hardy’s novel, yet there seems to be an over emphasis on scene-setting with the opening stages lumbering on without any purpose.
It isn’t until the second half that Mulligan and Sheen really begin to shine. The former displays some real subtle qualities as the film draws to a close, excellently conveying Bathsheba’s feelings without being overtly obvious. The twinkle in her eyes and the broader smile during her scenes with the exciting Troy contrast well with her more reserved, apprehensive approach with Boldwood, painting a picture for the audience whilst retaining the subtly needed for an effective female lead in a romantic film.
Sheen, meanwhile, is really able to show off his acting muscle as Boldwood’s comfortable, controlled world slowly disintegrates before his eyes as the film heads towards its climax.
However, the film does fall flat in a number of areas. The script feels stilted throughout. The hybrid of Victorian and contemporary language is offputting, while most scenes seem to end with an awful lot of build-up and before the actors are really able to get their teeth into them.
Vinterburg’s direction falls short too. In an already heavily saturated genre, the director fails to bring anything new that really sets his film apart. There is the occasional spectacular shot of the British countryside, yet these are few and far between throughout.
While this film doesn’t really offer a great deal that hasn’t already been seen before, it is nonetheless propped up by some good performances and a tried and tested storyline that comes into its own late on. It certainly won’t attract new audiences, but those who enjoy a classic romantic tale will be satisfied.