The heroine of Thomas Vinterberg’s intoxicating adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s literary classic, Far from the Madding Crowd, Bathsheba Everdene (an effervescent and headstrong Carey Mulligan) reminded me of one of those cocksure entrepreneurs on Shark Tank who comes in, lights the sharks on fire, instantly gets an amazing offer from one of them, but then hesitates to close the deal because they want to hear all of the offers from the other sharks.
The filmmakers want you to think modernly about Bathsheba, a woman ensconced in patriarchal 19th-century British countryside social mores but waaaaay ahead of her time in thoughts and actions, because otherwise this would be another run-of-the-mill period romance where a woman is swept off her feet. Bathsheba is a truly independent woman (she’s inherited a farm from her uncle, runs it herself, and proudly has no need for a husband) and Mulligan plays her with equal parts girlish coyness and womanly confidence, all sly smiles and looks with a twinkle of her nose, her loose impetuous strands of hair filtering the drunken sunlight splashed across the gorgeous Dorset hills. It’s no wonder every man wants her, and she could command any many she wants.
Yet there’s something screamingly old-fashioned deep down inside her. At one point she asks, no begs, the stoic and faithful shepherd Oaks (a perfectly cast Matthias Schoenaerts who could slay a beast with his eyes) to just tell her what to do, after making remarks earlier in the film questioning his manliness by claiming he could never tame her (oh silly girl, he never wanted to).
The viewer ends up wanting to yell at her, as it’s so clear the first choice, the first offer from Oaks, is the right one. But Bathsheba wasn’t ready, and she needed to turn him down. And while her fortune and confidence grows, her taste in men dwindles to where she’s falling head over heels for a dashing soldier of questionable morals (a suitably dastardly Tom Sturridge) after he wows her in the woods with his swordplay (seriously, could this have been any more blatantly symbolic?) while the kind, gentlemanly, wealthy but slightly emotionally unstable neighbor (an excellent as always Michael Sheen) pines for her at the altar from afar.
We all know how this will and should end. And there’s plenty of high melodrama that gets us to that satisfaction. It’s all crafted so wonderfully and with such delicate but sturdy care, with memorable costumes, a ravishing music score from Craig Armstrong, and your requisite stock scenes (oh the dancing, the singing, the sheep!) and characters (the sassy but doting Liddy played by the great Jessica Barden was my favorite) indicative of this breed of classic tale. But there’s also a breathtaking sequence where a mad border collie steals a flock of sheep in the night and sends them over a cliff. There are fires and thunderstorms and a crime of passion.
Apart from the Oscar-caliber lead performances, Thomas Vinterberg and cinematographer cohort Charlotte Bruus Christensen deliver scene after scene of the gorgeous Dorset countryside full of rolling hills, taunting seaside cliffs, the greenest grass, lavish sunlight and inviting shadows. The majority of the film was shot outdoors, as Kubrick did with Barry Lyndon, and it’s enough to make you want to hop on a plane to England as soon as you step out of the theater.
So scoff if you will at Bathsheba’s indecisiveness and contradictions but be damned if you’re not swept up by this production. In the end, a true modern woman needs no man to tell her what to do, and she’ll find the perfect match in a true modern man who refuses to ask her the question all too many women are a slave to, while proving his intent and worthiness with his actions.
Written by David H. Schleicher
Could this be the crowning achievement thus far of Vinterberg’s career? Perhaps because it is such a change of pace for this former Dogma maven it could seem that way…but let’s rank his films nonetheless:
Submarino – 9/10
Far From the Madding Crowd – 9/10
The Hunt – 8.5/10
The Celebration – 8/10
It’s All About Love – 6.5/10
Dear Wendy – 4/10
Disappointing springs to mind, the dumbing down of the accents leaving out all Hardy’s quirky characters and wonderful language leaving a dry husk of what should be a stirring story come easily to mind, Fanny Robbin and Francis Troy’s story very under written. Bathsheba distress over Boldwood’s fate I could go on.
I did not read the book, but I appreciate you pointing out some points of comparison (and contention it seems).
Totally agree with your view here. I can share your disappointment. 😉
To answer your question David, NO it is not the crowning achievement of Vinterberg’s career, It is merely (and I say this in the spirit of extreme veneration) a classy adaptation of a literary classic. Vinterberg’s masterpiece is unquestionably THE CELEBRATION (FESTEN), but like you I’d rate THE HUNT highly as well.
The Celebration 10/10
The Hunt 8.5/10
Far From the Madding Crowd 8/10
It’s All About Love 5/10
As always you provide your readers with a splendidly written review, expert and passionate and as always with a keen eye for the adaptation.
I always thought The Celebration (while fantastic on many levels) was overall a bit (and I hate using this term as it’s so overused but really is the best way to describe certain films of high regard)…overrated. That being said, it’s not hard to see why so many people find it to be a masterpiece.
Submarino, on the other hand, criminally under-seen, is underrated in my mind. One of the most emotionally engaging (and devastating yet hopeful) films I’ve seen in many years and made me “re-discover” Vinterberg. It got his mojo back and set the stage for the larger and later successes with The Hunt and now Far From the Madding Crowd.
Well David, I’ll be damned… totally not swept up by this production. As a Carey Mulligan fan, have noticed her back in her pre-movie days when she was a minor character in the TV mini-series Bleak House, I feel disappointed in that Vinterberg has not directed her well. Bathsheba is more than smiles and good looks, which Mulligan offers readily, she has temper and capricious and yes, her ‘nether lips quivered’ when she rashly cast Oak away, and is so green about love and passion. I’m with your commenter Bathsheba, and understand her disappointment. But I must say, your writing is effervescent. 😉