Return visit to Hardy country
Far from the Madding Crowd (M) National release from Thursday Inside Out (G) National release
Perhaps because I was born and raised in Wiltshire, the English county that — together with Dorset — comprises the fictional Wessex featured in the novels of Thomas Hardy, I have always loved this author whose writing so romantically and evocatively captures the essence of that part of England. When, in 1967, John Schlesinger filmed Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd, he used the Wiltshire town of Devizes, which I knew intimately as a child, for scenes set in the fictional Casterbridge.
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg made a new version of
that is for the most part impressive, despite some flaws. Vinterberg and his director of photography, Charlotte Bruus Christensen, filmed on authentic Dorset locations: the farmyards, the 19th-century houses and the landscape are all lovingly captured for the wide screen. If it strikes you as strange that a Danish team should have filmed such a quintessentially English novel, it shouldn’t; one of the best films based on a Hardy novel, Roman Polanski’s Tess, was made by a Pole who wasn’t able to film in Britain at all and was forced to recreate Wessex in France, and his Tess was a German actor, Nastassja Kinski.
In Vinterberg’s film the wonderfully named heroine, Bathsheba Everdene, is played by the excellent Carey Mulligan, the divine Daisy from Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, and she’s as close to perfect in the role as it’s possible to be. Bathsheba is an independent woman at a time when women were not known for their independence; when she inherits a farm near the coast, she is determined to run the place herself in her own way — and she sees no reason why she should marry a man she doesn’t love, (“I’d hate to be some man’s property”).
Bathsheba becomes involved with three men during the course of the novel and film. Gabriel Oak, played by the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, is her neighbour and suitor, but when his entire flock of sheep, lemming-like,
June 20-21, 2015
has plunges over a cliff, he’s forced to become Bathsheba’s loyal employee. Then there is William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a gentleman farmer and the wealthiest man in the district, but a shy and awkward suitor.
The man who catches Bathsheba’s eye, however, is a soldier, Sergeant Frank Troy ( Tom Sturridge), a dashing rake whose scarlet uniform gives him a definite air of masculine authority. But Troy proves to be a weak man whose seduction of Fanny (Juno Temple), a servant girl, leads to tragedy.
Vinterberg has certainly come a long way since he was co-signatory to the short-lived Dogme 95 Manifesto with Lars von Trier. Dogme, you may recall, was an absurd charter of self-imposed rules for filmmakers that included such strictures as the banning of music and the command that actors should wear their own clothes.
All that is, thankfully, in the past, and Far from the Madding Crowd boasts a stirring music score composed by Craig Armstrong.
A great deal of the film is as good as you could wish. Yet the screenplay, by David Nicholls, feels truncated, almost like a Reader’s Digest version of the book. The film runs just under two hours, whereas Schlesinger’s version ran for almost three.
Particularly short changed in this adaptation is Fanny, whose character seems to have
Far from the Madding Crowd; Inside Out pretty much ended up on the cutting-room floor. Her arrival at the wrong church for her marriage to Troy here seems rather ridiculous, especially since the repercussions are so dire.
Also problematic is the casting. Mulligan, as noted, is pretty near perfect (as was Julie Christie in 1967) but Schoenaerts, though he looks the part, never convinces as a Dorset (or Wessex) farmer in the way Alan Bates did. (The accent is all wrong). Nor is Michael Sheen, for all his pained suffering, anywhere near as effective as Peter Finch in the role.
On the other hand, Sturridge captures the haughty arrogance of Troy pretty well, though memories of Terence Stamp still linger.
It’s unfair, I know, to make comparisons between two films made almost 50 years apart. The good news is that, even with these flaws, Hardy’s story is as fresh and modern as ever it was in this new version, and that Bathsheba’s character (“I shall astonish you all!”) is translated to contemporary screens pretty much as Hardy described her back in 1874. Pixar, the cutting-edge animated studio that today is part of the vast Disney empire, has an almost unbeatable track record for producing relevant and original features and shorts, including the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo, Cars, Wall-E and many more. its latest, is the studio’s most original and inventive film yet, given that almost all of it takes place inside the head of an 11-year-old girl.
The film, co-directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, proposes that inside the brains of all of us are located the five emotions, and they control what we do and what we remember. Taking as its subject Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), we enter her head to discover the brain’s headquarters, where the Emotions operate a control panel that looks like something from the cockpit of an airliner or spaceship. Joy (Amy Poehler), colour-coded yellow, seems to be in charge — at least she’s the bossy one, but she’s responsible for Riley’s happiness. Then there’s Sadness (Phyllis Smith), blue; Fear (Bill Hader), violet; Anger (Lewis Black), red; and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), green.
For most of her childhood, living with her parents (Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Lane) in Minnesota, Riley has been happy and Joy has reigned supreme. But Riley’s Dad has acquired a new job in faraway San Francisco, and Riley has to leave behind friends and her security for a scary new city, unattractive apartment, and threatening new school. Here’s where the other Emotions displace Joy in the little girl’s life.
Then there are Riley’s Memories, virtually all of them joyous so far, that are stored in globes (colour-coded of course) and placed in the storage rooms of her brain. Here, too, are other elements that are part of her life: Imagination, Subconscious (a pretty scary place) and Dreams.
It’s a wonderfully intriguing concept that, despite tackling themes that kids may never have considered, seems certain to appeal, thanks to its very originality.
When things go wrong, as of course they do, and both Joy and Sadness are accidentally ejected from the control room, leaving Riley’s emotions in the not-too-capable hands of Anger, Fear and Disgust, the film enters dramatic territory, and Riley’s young life takes a darker turn. But the film has a positive message for children, not least the fact that Sadness — and the other Emotions — are part and parcel of all our lives, even the lives of animals (an amusing touch, this).
Inside Out is designed and presented with the accustomed skill and invention that have been the hallmark of Pixar productions and, as is customary, is preceded by a short film, Lava —a whimsical piece about a lovesick volcano.
Carey Mulligan, above, in
left, characters, from left, Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear and Sadness