Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenearts, Tilly Vosburgh, Mark Wingett, Dorian Lough, Sam Phillips, Tom Sturridge, June Temple
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
- You will not hear the word ‘madding’, ever, in the film. It is neither referred to nor mentioned, so I will tell you its origin. The namesake novel’s author, Thomas Hardy, took it from the first line of a Thomas Gray poem. The word means frenzied and knowing that, the title takes on an enhanced meaning, as in getting away from the rat race, such as there was in the 19th century.
1870, Dorset, England; Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) comes into a modest fortune as heir to an estate farm in disrepair. The story follows her interactions with three admirers, one of whom is perfect for her, one of whom is suitable for her, and one of whom is the worst possible choice she could make.
- I’ll go no further because you probably can predict what the strong, independent lady boss does, despite her brains and beauty. Men are captivated by her on sight, it seems, but she is not the marrying kind. That’s what she states over and over again, anyway.
- The three men is question are Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) a poor but worthy shepherd/farmer whose sheep were literally led astray to plunge off a cliff by an overeager herding dog; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a wealthy bachelor from a neighboring estate; and Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) who’s been accidentally and embarrassingly stood up at the altar by Fanny Robin (Juno Temple) a former servant of Bathsheba’s estate.
- Although faithful to the book, in varying degrees, director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) only skims the surface of Bathsheba’s actions, making her appear questionable in her behavior with the suitors. He’s removed her character’s inherent vanity and substituted a progressive independence and business acumen, and then tries to have us believe that she’s suddenly and willingly able to be seduced at a moment’s notice, and by a most dubious character at that.
- Yes, Hardy wrote it that way, but in this new film version, certain important interactions between Bathsheba and her admirers are either omitted, enhanced, or diminished, causing subsequent actions and decisions to seem out of character for them. Screen writer David Nicholls (Great Expectations) picks and chooses Hardy’s scenes as if in a buffet line, making Bathsheba seem dense and capricious, when the entire first half of the film shows you that she is not. Instant disconnect.
- This is at odds with the sumptuous cinematography of the English countryside, the serene interior scenes full of natural lighting, the set decorations and the fine work of the actors themselves. Those are evocative and period perfect, but if you get lost in the lovely atmosphere, you risk giving the film more credit than it deserves.
- Mulligan is a capable and confident Bathsheba, so her missteps seem out of place. The Bathsheba we are shown has little time for haughty vanity, yet that is what drives her in the book, explaining a lot there that doesn’t make it to the screen. Sturridge’s Troy is merely a one-note afterthought. Sheen’s Boldwood is one of the most sympathetic characters as is Schoenaerts’ Oak, as solid as his wooden surname. Temple’s Fanny appears, disappears, and appears again with head-spinning swiftness, in a key plot point that keeps her a total stranger.
- Perhaps a longer version of the film would get it right, but at 119 minutes, this one is far from satisfying.