Far From the Madding Crowd

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Adele Oliveira

Far From the Madding Crowd, ro­mance/drama/pe­riod piece, PG-13, Vi­o­let Crown Cinema, 3.5 chiles

Dur­ing a party scene in Far From the Madding Crowd, actress Carey Mul­li­gan sings “The Sprig of Thyme,” an English folk bal­lad that be­gins, “Come all you fair and ten­der girls/That flour­ish in your prime/Be­ware, be­ware keep your gar­den fair/Let no man steal your thyme.”

The song en­cap­su­lates the thrust of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel on which this film is based. It’s the story of Bathsheba Ever­dene (Mul­li­gan), a head­strong young woman who in­her­its her late un­cle’s farm, which she strug­gles to man­age while be­ing courted by three very dif­fer­ent men: her friend and em­ployee, shep­herd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoe­naerts); Wil­liam Bold­wood (Michael Sheen), an older, wealthy bach­e­lor; and the ar­ro­gant sol­dier Fran­cis Troy (Tom Stur­ridge). All pro­pose to Bathsheba, with vary­ing re­sults.

While Dan­ish direc­tor Thomas Vin­ter­berg (The Hunt) works strictly in the mold of a pe­riod piece, his vi­sion feels at once fresh and true to the time. Gor­geous land­scapes are show­cased by ca­pa­ble cin­e­matog­ra­phy: Dur­ing an early scene, one of Gabriel’s col­lies drives his flock of sheep over a sea­side cliff at dawn. Gabriel races up a grassy bluff as the sun­light first hits it, too late to save his sheep from hurl­ing them­selves over the edge. The scene is stunning.

Mul­li­gan’s Bathsheba ex­udes quiet con­fi­dence. Her mo­ments of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and doubt aren’t as be­guil­ing as when she’s sure of her­self: Watch­ing Bathsheba gal­lop on horse­back across the fields sur­round­ing her farm is vi­car­i­ously ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

Far From the Madding Crowd re­ver­ber­ates with lust. Be­yond the overt sex­ual ten­sion be­tween Bathsheba and her suit­ors, the ver­dant land­scape is a nod to fe­cun­dity. While Bathsheba has no need for a hus­band, she’s hu­man and un­able to ig­nore car­nal temp­ta­tions. She chooses the wrong man be­cause he ex­cites her and she’s cu­ri­ous about sex — the price of which is mar­riage and sub­mis­sion.

The film’s most dra­matic scenes some­times lack ur­gency: When one char­ac­ter is fa­tally shot, the pre­vail­ing sense is an an­ti­cli­mac­tic “Oh well.” As Troy, Stur­ridge is a weak link in an oth­er­wise im­pres­sive cast. He’s not dash­ing enough to play the se­ducer, and it’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve Bathsheba would lose her head to any­one with such a ter­ri­ble mus­tache. For­tu­nately, Sheen nails Bold­wood’s lone­li­ness and bun­gled at­tempts at valor. And as Gabriel, Schoe­naerts per­son­i­fies the strong, (mostly) si­lent type, which plays well off his rugged good looks.

Bathsheba is a 20th-cen­tury woman in the Vic­to­rian Age. While con­sid­er­ing Bold­wood’s mar­riage pro­posal, she men­tions to her com­pan­ion Liddy that she’s been pro­posed to be­fore. Liddy ex­claims, “What a luxury to have a choice!” But a choice be­tween men is hardly a luxury. Bathsheba is at her best when she is un­fet­tered by mar­riage — love and lust be damned.

Lean in: Matthias Schoe­naerts and Carey Mul­li­gan

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