Carey Mulligan proves that she can carry a movie as the incandescent and powerful Bathsheba in “The Hunt” director Thomas Vinterberg’s gorgeous realization of the Thomas Hardy classic “Far from the Madding Crowd.” Julie Christie played the role at the height of her powers in John Schlesinger’s stormy 1967 romance.
Casting is everything in this movie. Rising Belgian star Matthias Schoenaerts (“Rust and Bone”) shares real chemistry with Mulligan as the stalwart and loving salt of the earth once played by Alan Bates. We’re rooting for him, while Michael Sheen (“Masters of Sex”) is the more mature hapless gentleman neighbor who proposes marriage (Peter Finch). The weakest link is young Tom Sturridge (“On the Road”) as the rakish sergeant (Terence Stamp) who sweeps Bathsheba off her feet, which is hard to believe.
The movie already opened in Vinterberg’s native Denmark and some other territories, hence the early trade reviews below. Fox Searchlight is wisely backing “Far from the Madding Crowd” as a commercial May 1 release without festival play. If it does well, Mulligan has a shot at a Best Actress nomination, although she’ll be competing with herself in the fall release “Suffragette.”
Probably the Danish Vinterberg’s most accomplished foray into English-language filmmaking (after the gun-control allegory “Dear Wendy” and the futuristic Joaquin Phoenix-Claire Danes romance “It’s All About Love”), this pared-down if generally faithful adaptation benefits from a solid cast and impeccable production values, though the passions that drive Hardy’s characters remain more stated than truly felt. Still, the “Downton Abbey” set will find much to enjoy here, and should generate pleasing returns for this May 1 Fox Searchlight release.
Mulligan’s Bathsheba is not coy and never insincere, but she is prudent, discloses no more than necessary and, to the great frustration of two of her suitors, cannot be sweet-talked, cajoled, negotiated or otherwise pushed into a decision against her better nature. When she finally lets caution to the wind, the price is high, even if fate is eventually kind. Henry James, nor anyone else, could hardly call this Bathsheba inconsequential. The men solidly provide for their one-dimensional roles, with Schoenaerts in particular convincing as a salt-of-the-earth sort of great physical capacity. The production is robust and lustrous in all departments.
Carey Mulligan is excellent: her face has a pinched girlish prettiness combined with a shrewd, slightly schoolmistressy intelligence – the sort of face which can appear very young and really quite old at the same time. Her Bathsheba is well turned out with an impressive line in hats; she is a horsewoman and very keen on rough shooting, not activities that much interested Julie Christie, who was almost ethereally beautiful and fancy-free in the part. She was at her strongest with Bathsheba’s irresponsible and impetuous side. Mulligan is very good playing opposite the sensitive Michael Sheen – the one actor who really matches her quality – but is also very good at conveying her overlapping disdain and erotic excitement at Troy’s insolent advances.
Screen International is less fond, however:
Carey Mulligan shoulders the load for Danish director Thomas Vinterberg as he adapts Thomas Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd,” the Victorian writer’s fourth novel which – although harsh at times – is far kinder to its protagonists than his later works. This pastoral, pedigree film which relates the story of proto-feminist farmer Bathsheba Everdene and her three suitors (played by Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge) boasts fine performances and pristine technical credits, but fails to make a deep connection as it jolts awkwardly towards a sweet finale. It’s a title to be admired, certainly, but for all its visual fireworks, “Far From The Madding Crowd” doesn’t truly ignite an emotional spark.