An exciting and interesting adaptation of the Thomas Hardy classic novel, it just doesn't tick all the boxes.
John Schlesinger’s 1967 adaptation of the Thomas Hardy classic Far From The Madding Crowd is one of the toughest acts to follow in cinematic history, but this didn’t stop Thomas Vinterberg from giving it a good go.
The long-awaited 2015 adaptation, starring Carey Mulligan as the striking Bathsheba Everdene, shines bright but it is nowhere near perfect. One of the film’s great advantages comes in the form of Mulligans’s lead. Her countryside roughness, paired with her stunning beauty encapsulates Hardy’s Bathsheba, in a way that few actresses can pull off. Her girlish prettiness combined with her assertiveness means that Mulligan fulfills the strong and powerful role of Bathsheba with grace. Bathsheba is intelligent and ‘excited, wild and honest as the day’ as Hardy puts it in his original text. A woman that cannot be tamed, who is in charge of her life, but still crucially toes the line of morals.
There are times within the movie that are less convincing: Bathsheba’s submission to Sgt. Troy, played by the boy-with-a-moustache Tom Sturridge, for instance. This goes against the strength we witness up to this point in Mulligan’s Bathsheba, and although this may be down to the fact that the script misses out a lot of the detail with Bathsheba and Troy’s relationship, it still feels less convincing than other points in the movie.
Sturridge’s Troy is one of the weaker elements in this 2015 adaptation. In comparison with Terence Stamp’s 1967 portrayal of the famous brute, Sturridge’s Troy appears like a kid dressed as a soldier, punching above his weight. The infamous sword scene, filled with its phallic, psychoanalytical symbolism, just doesn’t compare to the novel’s scene and that of the 1967 adaptation. Here, they meet in a Twilight-esque woodland opening, where Sturridge awkwardly wafts his sword at Mulligan – not quite the romantic gesture Hardy had planned. However, Sturridge isn’t entirely at fault as his character is distinctly underwritten. For example, the pivotal moment where Sgt. Troy is performing in the circus and spots Bathsheba, his wife, through the crowd is missing, making his return from the dead farcical and disjointed.
On the other hand, a performance that stands out, is Michael Sheen’s stunning performance of William Boldwood, the second of Bathsheba’s suitors. The neighbouring middle-aged landowner becomes fatally besotted with Bathsheba, and Sheen phenomenally holds a delicate balance of desperation and adoration. His performance easily matches that of Peter Finch in the 1967 adaptation; his face fillng with agony as he tries, with all his energy, to court Bathsheba and make her his wife; or his on-point portrayal of Boldwood’s grief as he confides in Gabriel Oak, Bathsheba’s original suitor played by the dreamy Matthias Schoenaertst.
Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls (of One Day fame) have crammed a novel of copious detail into a movie that is just shy of two hours. There are moments where, instead of being pithy, this selection of content chops up the original Hardy narrative. It skips from famous scene, to famous scene, and lacks some of the crucial character development we experience in the novel. This is a warming, but flawed, adaptation of one of Hardy’s greatest and much loved texts.
Far From The Madding Crowd, directed by Thomas Vinterberg, is distributed in the UK by Fox Searchlight Pictures, Certificate 12A.