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Vinterberg’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ presents a soirée of Victorian romance

By Walter Howard / For The Pitt News

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“Far From the Madding Crowd”

Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen

Grade: A

A treat for those with finer tastes and a tonic for those with sequel-induced headaches, Thomas Vinterberg’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” follows on the heels of classic, well known films like “Pride and Prejudice” (2005), “Anna Karenina” (2012), “Sense and Sensibility” (1995) and “The Age of Innocence” (1993). Vinterberg received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film with his previous work, “The Hunt” (2012), and with his eclectic filmography and emphasis, he lends “Far From the Madding Crowd” an intimate feeling that belies much of its epic qualities. From its well drawn characters to its lush period details, “Far From the Madding Crowd” is a perfectly executed film.

Based on the Victorian era novel by Thomas Hardy, this adaptation is the sixth time a filmmaker has echoed the classic story of Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak. Recently, Nicholas Renton adapted the book in a 1998 film, and John Schlesinger directed an adaptation in 1967. Hardy’s film represents the best adaptation of any of his work, and ranks among the best of any adaptations of classic literature.

“Far From the Madding Crowd” differs from its contemporaries. In place of dainty, innocent women and repressed gentlemen, this is a film about hot-blooded characters with singular desires.

It follows the romance of Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan), the headstrong protagonist who inherits her uncle’s farm, and Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a wealthy farmer who loses everything in a twist of fate. As Ms. Everdene attempts to run the farm herself, three suitors, including Gabriel, threaten to rob her of the independence she values so highly. Gabriel is rivaled by William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a wealthy neighbor whose love for Bathsheba becomes an obsession, and Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), a brash, handsome soldier who harbors deep feelings for another woman that jilted him. While Gabriel comes to embody loyalty in Ms. Everdene’s eyes, Mr. Boldwood is security and Sergeant Troy embodies lust.

Much of the film’s underlying tension comes from Gabriel and Bathsheba’s quiet conversations in the dark, where their faces are shown in profile or where Vinterberg closes in the camera to focus on their mouths. Rather than showcase the extravagant splendor of the era, he chooses to convey a rougher aesthetic that contrasts with the romance of the story. Characters are often shown sweating profusely as they work the fields or maintain the sheep.

Mulligan does the best work of her career in a perfect balance of sweetness and haughtiness, one moment singing a beautiful duet with Boldwood and the next informing him she has no need of a husband. Schoenaerts gives what is otherwise a stolid, stoic type some color by his mere presence. His stature and exotic look ensure that Gabriel never gets lost among the more animated characters.

For those who have not read the novel, the film is its most suitable proxy. “Far From the Madding Crowd” is a beautiful film from its characters to its depiction of Victorian society. It is an early candidate for best of the year. For those who have read the book and do not mind necessary alterations, you have the opportunity to fall in love again.

There are those who find these films boring. They depict a time when good manners and breeding demanded that their characters reveal very little on the surface. Yet, if you could peel back the artifice —  women in silk gowns, hats capped in flowers, and matching ribbons and the men sporting impressive frock coats, top hats and canes — and peek below the surface, you would find a world of emotion.

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Vinterberg’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ presents a soirée of Victorian romance