Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Far From The Madding Crowd (2015)

FFTMC poster

Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel (which I much shamefully admit I have never read), Far From the Madding Crowd tells the tale of Bathsheba Everdene’s rags-to-riches rise to become a farm-owner in rural Dorset in the 1870’s, the title coming from the fact that Dorset is a long way from the hustle and bustle of London- – “200 miles away” as the opening title incorrectly declares (the furthest possible direct driving route I could find was 155 miles!).

Bathsheba is a magnet to men with her feisty and independent behaviour, and the film documents the “love square” between her and three men in her life: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), the hunk of a farm manager; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), the wealthy neighbouring landowner; and Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), a dashing Han-Solo style rogue, flash-as-you-like in his scarlet army uniform.

In reviewing this film I need to declare a couple of loves.

Firstly, Dorset. Of all the English counties, this has to be one of the most glorious. Green rolling hills, dramatic coastline such as that at Golden Cap (featured in the film), quaint villages and – most importantly in this context – gorgeously photogenic. Hopefully, this might tempt more visitors to stop there rather than ‘driving on through’ to Devon and Cornwall for their holidays.

Secondly, and with apologies to the wife, Carey Mulligan. To be clear, this is not a sordid sexually-motivated affair (although there was THAT shower-scene in “Shame”) but a deep love of her acting talents and screen presence. This is a love affair long in the making, beginning ten years ago with her startling presence in Bleak House at the age of 20 (looking much, much younger); her stunning minx-like Dr Who performance as Sally Sparrow in “Blink”; and continuing on through her breakout movie performance in “An Education” in 2009.  

Independant woman (but still 50 years before she can vote).
Independant woman (but still 50 years before she can vote).

Where Mulligan excels is in roles where she can play a strong, confident and independent woman, so the role of Bathsheba is perfect for her. She is utterly believable as the 1870’s landowner holding her own against the men-folk, and even pulling off the somewhat out-of-character plot twist half-way through the film.

In the words of the Pointer Sisters - "When it comes to love I need a farm hand"
In the words of the Pointer Sisters – “When it comes to love I need a farm hand”

The supporting cast is also excellent: the ever-reliable Sheen (“The Queen”; “Frost/Nixon”) delivers a heart-breaking performance as the love-lorn Boldwood; Schoenaerts (recently in “Suite Française”) is manly enough with a scythe to no doubt set female hearts a flutter; and Sturridge is deliciously unpleasant in his powerful role.

Michael Sheen's impression of Tony Blair doing David Frost doing William Boldwood.
Michael Sheen’s impression of Tony Blair doing David Frost doing William Boldwood.

Above all, this is just a crackingly good story, through David (“One Day”) Nicholls’ tight screenplay. If you decide you are going to avoid this film because it is “old stuff”, think again. The rollercoaster ride of the plot gives “Eastenders” and “Coronation Street” a good run for their money in the drama stakes, and the denouement is both surprising and satisfying.

Direction is by the relatively unknown (to me at least) Thomas Vinterberg (“The Hunt”), but big kudos needs to go to Vinterburg’s collaborator Charlotte Bruus Christensen for the stunning Cinematography: some of the scenes (notably the harvesting scene towards the end of the movie) are bucolically gorgeous.

The woman folk were mightily unhappy when Bernard gave up in the middle of the Macarena.
The woman folk were mightily unhappy when Bernard gave up in the middle of the Macarena.

Also worth noting is the soundtrack by the brilliant but sparingly used Craig Armstrong (“Love Actually”, “The Great Gatsby”) which is luscious and suits the film to a tee. The woodland rendezvous scene (as featured in the poster) makes your hair stand on end and this is largely down to the music combined with Claire Simpson’s excellent editing.

I struggle to find aspects to criticise. I was gripped, and suitably shocked at the right moments, which is just what you want for a good night out at the movies. Having already praised the cinematography, one gripe I would have is with the lens flare at the end of the film (natural this time, rather than of the JJ Abrams variety), which was annoyingly distracting to me in the closing scene: but I recognise this is a personal and regular complaint of mine (see Magic in the Moonlight) that I might be alone in. Just a word of warning as well for animal lovers: that despite it being a UK 12A certificate, there are some pretty torrid scenes with sheep and a dog that might upset sensitive viewers. (I already got chastised on Facebook for suggesting this should have a “Ewe” certificate!)

Sheep, all about to flock off.
Sheep, all about to flock off.

In summary, this is a treat for more mature audiences, but should be a must see for audiences of all ages as a rollicking good tale, well told and beautifully shot.

Fad Rating: FFFFf.

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8 thoughts on “One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Far From The Madding Crowd (2015)

  1. Hi Bob, I just want to say how much we appreciate your erudite and entertaining reviews.
    It seems we have remarkably similar tastes in movies, especially good solid, well written dramas, although I must confess not to be at all interested in all the US fantasy/horror/shoot-em-up so-called block busters that are so prevalent nowadays.
    Keep up the good work please.
    Regards,

    Mike & Jan

  2. Thank you for your review.
    Going to see it tonight at a nearby art house, so I was looking for reviews and found yours.
    I’m not very fond of British costume dramas (most are a bit over-the-top for me, I’m afraid), but it helps it’s directed by Thomas Vinterberg.

    His movies Festen and Jagten (please, don’t call them The Celebration and The Hunt. That’s so… American) are great. Well filmed. No-nonsense. No extra exitement or tearjerky effects. But very gripping and they stay with you for quite a while. He’s one of the founders of the Scandinavian Dogma95 movement.

    So, I’m very interested to find out how he did with this kind of story.

  3. Mulligan doesn’t just get the best lines and the most dramatic close-ups. She is given almost as many changes of costume as Nicole Kidman in Grace Of Monaco. Thomas Hardy was writing long before the days of Zara and Topshop but judging by Mulligan’s ever-changing wardrobe, Wessex must have had its share of high street retailers.

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