A RECENT re-release of John Schlesinger’s 1967 version of Far From The Madding Crowd provided a timely reminder of the raw emotional power of Thomas Hardy’s late 19th-century novel and Julie Christie’s luminous portrayal of spirited heroine, Bathsheba Everdene.
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg brings a delicate touch to this handsome new incarnation, which runs 50 minutes shorter than its predecessor and is undernourished as a consequence.
One tragic supporting character, who should shatter our hearts to smithereens, is reduced to a simplistic two-dimensional plot device, and the heroine’s vacillations between three potential suitors seem more haphazard than usual in a noticeably rushed final act.
Moreover, one of these paramours has significantly more screen time, so her choice is inevitable.
Feelings are tightly buttoned beneath Janet Patterson’s splendid costumes and when one of the characters does eventually lose control and commits a fatal “crime of passion” at a Christmas party, we’re just as surprised by the outburst as the film’s clucky social set.
The film opens in 1870 with Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan) living with her aunt Mrs Hurst on the adjacent property to handsome sheep farmer, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts).
She rebuffs his heartfelt advances, telling a crestfallen Gabriel, “I don’t want a husband. I don’t want to be some man’s property.”
Soon after, Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s vast estate and defies expectation to turn around the ailing farm, aided by her companion Liddy (Jessica Barden). Gabriel, who has fallen on hard times, is hired by Bathsheba as the estate’s shepherd and continues to pine for her from afar.
Meanwhile, emotionally repressed and wealthy farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) makes his feelings for Bathsheba known, but her head is turned by dashing and reckless Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), whose heart was broken at the altar by servant girl Fanny (Juno Temple).
These three suitors leave Bathsheba in an emotional whirl and when Boldwood offers her financial security as his bride, she turns to brooding Gabriel for advice.
“I need some who’s objective, indifferent,” Bathsheba tells the shepherd.
“Then I’m afraid you’re asking the wrong man,” pointedly responds Gabriel.
Anchored by Mulligan’s nuanced performance, Far From The Madding Crowd is a visually arresting, but ultimately anaemic portrait of rural desires.
Schoenaerts wrestles in vain with a West Country accent, while Sheen and Sturridge have limited screen time to match fond memories of Peter Finch and Terence Stamp in respective roles in the 1967 film.
While Vinterberg’s vision, filmed on location in pastoral Dorset, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, lacks emotional heft, it packs a mighty visual punch.
Rolling landscapes look invitingly wild and untamed, bathed largely in natural light, and the nascent beauty of leading lady Mulligan shines through the artfully composed muck and grime.
Check your local cinema for show times.