"It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language chiefly made by men to express theirs.”
Thomas Vinterberg decided to follow up his critically acclaimed 2012 film, The Hunt, with this adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel set in Victorian England. It was a sharp change of direction for Vinterberg considering what a great small crafted character study The Hunt was. Far From the Madding Crowd is more focused on the narrative and therefor the characters aren’t explored as well, but the romantic story is still quite engaging. It centers on a strong and independent woman played by Carey Mulligan. Her name is Bathsheba Everdene and despite her humble upbringing she inherits a large amount of farming land from her uncle. She is determined to restore the land’s productivity and in order to do so she hires a sheep farmer named Gabriel (Matthias Schoenaerts) who used to own a small piece of land next to her place. He had borrowed some money to pay for the land and buy some sheep, but after a terrible incident his fortune is reversed and is forced to sell the land back leaving him with nothing. Prior to this reversal of fortune for both Gabriel and Bathsheba, he had proposed to her but she kindly refused claiming she had no intention of marrying. Her strong independent female role isn’t something audiences are used to seeing in films set during this era which made Mulligan’s performance quite special. Once her character settles in her new home, two other suitors show up: William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a wealthy senior and Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) a charming Sergeant who she unexpectedly falls for.
I wasn’t familiar with Hardy’s novel so I can’t say how faithful David Nicholls’ screenplay adaptation is. Unfortunately I found the pacing a bit hurried and the story was jumping from one scene to the next without letting us get to know these characters. From the very opening scene it is clear that Bathsheba and Gabriel belong with each other. Schoenaerts completely steals his scenes and along with Mulligan they are the only two characters who are portrayed as strong and perseverant characters. By the time Sturridge and Sheen show up on screen they have no chance of getting the audience’s sympathy because they are already rooting for Gabriel. Troy takes a villainous turn very early on without much explanation and William is simply a dull and boring character despite his good intentions. Juno Temple has a small supporting role, but her prior relationship with Sturridge was underdeveloped. There is a scene where her character shows up at the wrong church for her wedding day and so Troy is left stranded in the altar, but it wasn’t handled well. There are also several twists and surprises along the way, but they weren’t as shocking as they could’ve been considering these characters weren’t developed well. The film was trying to get from one point to the next in a rather quick pace because the audience is simply expecting the two main characters to get together and nothing else seems to matter.
Vinterberg’s greatest accomplishment was casting Schoenaerts and Mulligan in the lead roles because they had great chemistry together, but it also turned to be the film’s downfall since it was so strong that we could care less for the other characters. The cinematography was gorgeous and it helped that most of the film was shot outdoors because nature was perfectly captured here by either the sunlight or the heavily charged grey skies. Those were the two main reasons why I ended up enjoying Far From the Madding Crowd despite being disappointed by it. The Hunt was one of my favorite films of 2012, so I had high hopes for the Danish director in this English film, but they weren’t met. Far From the Madding Crowd is powered by its lead performances, but unfortunately the narrative was unnecessarily rushed and that hurt the film.