Far from the Madding Crowd

Posted by Joel Copling on May 15, 2015

All of Thomas Vinterberg's directorly gentleness and stately picaresque in the world cannot mask the staleness of the central romantic triangle (well, to be more mathematically accurate, a romantic trapezoid) in "Far from the Madding Crowd," the latest in a fairly long line of adaptations of Thomas Hardy's classic novel (unread by me). David Nicholls is the screenwriter in charge on this go-round, but he isn't able to bring much to the table here dramatically or narratively. It's a fairly simple trajectory with blatantly developed characters who probably deserve more than two dimensions, although as is there isn't much to them.

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), who has never really liked her name when spoken aloud, is an independent woman in a time when marriage is considered important for status. This is proven when she rejects Gabriel Oak's (Matthias Schoenaerts) marriage proposal upon their second meeting. It's an entirely understandable reaction ("There are things to consider," she says; he only offers protection of a flattering but vague sort) from a character who is set up to be headstrong, and the rest of the film proceeds betray that strength. She becomes infatuated with Mr. Boldwood (Michael Sheen), an older man who offers the same kind of vague protection, and later, she also meets Troy (Tom Sturridge), a sergeant in the military with a cold look in his eyes and a possessive streak.

The romantic entanglement into which Bathsheba enters is uninvolving on a fundamental level, despite performances (especially from Schoenaerts) that rarely dip into melodrama. Better is a subplot involving Juno Temple as the military man's previous bride-to-be. It begins with light, fluffy sweetness and ends in tragedy that actually makes an impact far beyond the simple one of the central plot hook. As for that plot hook, "Far from the Madding Crowd" is wrapped up by completing Bathsheba's journey from headstrong woman to one who needs a man to complete her (despite her protests to the opposite) and setting up a series of ironies and coincidences that feel manufactured.

Film Information

Carey Mulligan (Bathsheba Everdene), Matthias Schoenaerts (Gabriel Oak), Michael Sheen (William Boldwood), Tom Sturridge (Sergeant Troy), Jessica Barden (Liddy), Juno Temple (Fanny Robin).

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg and written by David Nicholls, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy.

Rated PG-13 (sexuality, violence).

119 minutes.

Released in select cities on May 1, 2015.