Here’s a fine example of varied interpretations being different things to different people. David Stratton has compared this latest rendering of Thomas Hardy’s FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, by Thomas Vinterberg (THE HUNT; FESTEN) as being inferior to John Schlesinger’s 1967 version, feeling that Vinterberg’s effort is too rushed.
I’m of the opposite view – I found Schlesinger’s film, with it’s near three hour running time, to be like eating a bowl of particularly chewy, dour muesli. Without any golden syrup on it. Made with cold water. My memories of boredom and restlessness with that production are such that I was secretly dreading this new one. How wrong I was.
Carey Mulligan (THE GREAT GATSBY; DRIVE; AN EDUCATION) is Bathsheba, a young woman living in Hardy’s fictional 19th century county of Wessex. She’s more interested in her own independence than settling for nice-but-graceless farmer next door Gideon (Mattias Schoenaerts: A LITTLE CHAOS), and soon inherits a large farm of her own. From there trials, tragedy, tribulations and two more potential suitors - fiery soldier Troy (Tom Sturridge: ON THE ROAD; THE BOAT THAT ROCKED) and a bachelor neighbour as repressed as he is mature, Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen: TWILIGHT; THE QUEEN; Masters Of Sex).
Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls (ONE DAY) cut to the heart of the story, sparing little else, giving the story a fizz and energy at every level of production; Mulligan is superb (has she ever not been?), playing Bathsheba as level-headed, intelligent and patient rather than snippy or angrily contrarian in her defiance of the norms of her time. Charlotte Bruus Christensen's (who also photographed Vinterberg’s glorious THE HUNT) sumptuous cinematography places us in an England lush and romantic, where the sun is never more than thirty degrees from the horizon - all glorious, crisp blue sky mornings and glowing golden afternoons. Craig Armstrong's score certainly doesn't hurt, either.
Granted, Stratton's argument isn't without merit, and Vinterberg's film is in places a little too abridged. The excising of 50 minutes from the story does lead to motivations and actions feeling at times rushed and rash - particularly, but not only, with the male suitors. But ultimately the sacrifice feels worth it for the sake of dramatic pace and excitement.
This is gorgeous, swooning romantic cinema, and a wonderful surprise. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD deserves to be a hit of THE NOTEBOOK proportions.
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is released April 30 in NZ, May 1 in the UK, May 22 in the US and June 25 in Australia.