Cert 12a | ★★★☆☆
In 19th century England, the line between fancying someone and marrying them was terrifyingly thin. Or so you might think from Thomas Vinterberg’s new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, in which the twinkly Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) hurdles marriage proposals like a Victorian Colin Jackson. All she has to do is glance flirtatiously at a shepherd and there he is, down on one knee, promising a lifetime of woollen security.
Who can blame him? Mulligan illuminates this film, bringing sparkle, grit and humour to the proto-feminist icon. That said, it wouldn’t have taken much to light up this adaptation, awash as it is in muddy National Trust green. There must be a temptation, when directing Hardy, to romanticise the landscape, to render his fictional Wessex a dream of sun-drenched cliffs, meadows and valleys. Vinterberg goes too far the other way – everything is dull and dark, like a park-keeper’s uniform.
Still, there’s always Everdene. The sunniest of all Hardy’s heroines famously vows to “astonish you all”, not through beauty or grace, but through her aptitude in the traditionally male dominated field of shovelling manure. She wants to be a successful farmer, and no man, not even the handsome Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), can divert her from this ambition – until she meets Tom Sturridge’s Francis Troy, a young sergeant so thrustingly virile he ends up camp.
Everdene’s marriage to the latter feels rushed, as do many of the story’s sub-threads: great, life-altering events are truncated into vignettes whose import will mystify anyone who hasn’t read the book. Inevitable, perhaps, when turning a 400 page novel into a 119 minute film.
The drama plays out like the cinematography: thoughtfully observed but staid. Perhaps because there are too many events to whizz through, not enough time is spent developing the characters and no one apart from Mulligan, in the end, registers.
CRITIC’S CHOICE: FILM
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