Far From the Madding Crowd
Starring Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple, Michael Sheen
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s follow-up to The Hunt, isn’t as comprehensively impressive or haunting. Yet Far From the Madding Crowd is one summer remake I can get behind. Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan (Drive, An Education) returns to her natural element in the latest period piece revival. Far From the Madding Crowd is one of many cinematic events this year aiming to cleanse our pallet of visually exhausting special effects ridden films. What so interesting about Far From the Madding Crowd, based on Thomas Hardy’s novel, is the gender role reversal in a late 1800’s drama. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (The Hunt) is greatly influenced by Roman Osin’s unmatched work in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice, which coincidentally co-starred Mulligan.
The first time Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan) and Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts) meet, is on his marginally profitably farm in Dursset, England. Their flirtatious friendship, being neighbors, prompts the sandy blond farmer to ask for her hand, which she being ambitiously independent and educated, turns down. In a short time Bathsheba is willed a luxurious estate from her uncle and Gabriel loses everything due to one bad sheep dog. Now in a reversal of fortune, and at the employment of Bathsheba, they meet again, and resume their friendship. The farm town, never having witnessed a tenacious mistress actively take charge of a trade, brings all the reputable single men to her door. Her independence turns to pride getting in the way of her decision making and her heart’s desire.
A career high performance from Mulligan.
“From now on you will have a mistress instead of a master. My intention is to astonish you all,” Bathsheba says, in a riveting and powerful speech to the farm help. Her actions throughout the film define the difference between a leader and a master. Mulligan, who typically plays very sheepish, meek characters takes on an entirely different persona here, flexing her talents as an actress. No stranger to period films, the 29 year old Brit is at the top of her game and looks born to wear the form fitting costumes that include blood red velvet riding gear. She turns away men left and right, washes the animals along with the servants and fires a gun; her unwillingness to be tamed is a rare form of welcome feminism I have rarely witnessed in period romances.
Despite the authority and prominence given to our lead character, the men are not written down or emasculated in a manner that seems unrealistic. In fact it’s scenes like Michael Sheen’s character confessing his heartbreak over a woman, to another man, that continues to reveal personas rarely seen in these storylines for both genders. Far From the Madding Crowd does have its drawbacks, which come from the source material. It’s a way to constantly add immense drama into the story, which essentially revolves around one woman wanting to be with one man and all the distractions between them. Vinterberg, steadfast in his direction, never allows the film to become an 1870’s version of The Bachelorette. Striking visual moments, like the scene with the cliff and the sheep will long stay with the viewer, as does the career high performance from Mulligan.
Rich in all cinematic elements, a rare film challenging gender stereotypes of the era.