Friday, May 22, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Far From the Madding Crowd”
Finally Gets Hardy’s Novel Right

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back in 1967, when I was the film critic for the Florida Times-Union, I reviewed the movie “Far From the Madding Crowd,” an epic starring Julie Christie. MGM sent me a nice letter thanking me for my kind words. I was particularly taken by the sweeping cinematography of the Dorset countryside, the haughty beauty of Christie, and the intense courtship with her three suitors (Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, and Peter Finch) in this three-hour widescreen Cinemascope extravaganza.

Now it falls my lot to review a new movie version of “Far From the Madding Crowd” starring Carey Mulligan.

If I could only find a copy of that old review and repeat the words.

Based on the classic Thomas Hardy novel, we have the story of Bathsheba Everdene, a headstrong country heiress who attracts the attentions of an impoverished sheep farmer, a dashing cavalryman, and a prosperous landowner.

This time around the flawed suitors are played by Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, and Michael Sheen -- offering somewhat less star-power gravitas than the original cast.

However, Carey Mulligan holds her own as our romantic heroine. While possessing less of Christie’s insouciant vulnerability, the petite actress brings instead a wild passion to Hardy’s Bathsheba Everdene.

First published in 1874, “Far From the Madding Crowd” was Thomas Hardy’s fourth novel -- and his first literary success.

The title comes from a poem by Thomas Gray. Here the word “madding” (not “maddening” as people mistakenly say) means “frenzied.” However, Hardy uses the title ironically, because the quiet Wessex countryside of his novel is anything but calm.

The turbulent plot is well known to serious readers:  Bathsheba Everdene unwisely marries Sergeant Frank Troy, even though he has impregnated another woman. When he appears to have committed suicide, she becomes engaged to marry her neighbor William Buttonwood. But Troy turns up at the engagement party and Buttonwood shoots him dead, for which he is hauled off to prison. Finally realizing what she wants is a man of quiet strength, Bathsheba weds her longtime friend Gabriel Oak.

“Far From the Madding Crowd” is currently breaking hearts at Tropic Cinema

This is the fourth film version. Director Thomas Vinterberg finally gets Hardy’s story right, avoiding the imprecise narrative focus of John Schlesinger’s 1967 film. The two other versions can be ignored, a 1915 silent and a 1998 TV movie.

And while Vinterberg didn’t have Schlesinger’s “dream cast” to work with, his film nevertheless is charged with erotic energy … like a brooding storm hovering over the rolling English countryside.

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