Far from the Madding Crowd

 

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Was there any point in Thomas Vinterberg remaking an accepted screen classic? In fact the director has eclipsed John Schlesinger’s version of fifty years ago.

  

Far from the Madding Crowd

 

It was difficult to imagine a better screen version of Thomas Hardy’s rural masterpiece than John Schlesinger’s fine piece of film-making, but Vinterberg has stamped it with his own authority. While I had no complaints in the 1967 version about Schlesinger’s direction, Nicolas Roeg’s expert camerawork or Richard Rodney Bennett’s lush Elgarian score, I remain, however, unconvinced by some of the performances in the earlier version. Whereas Julie Christie seemed more playful as Bathsheba Everdene, here Carey Mulligan is a strong-willed personality who will never let anything get past her until she comes to realise her true fate. Terence Stamp as Sergeant Troy seemed too modern even fifty years ago, whereas now Tom Sturridge appears equally lightweight as the prancing soldier playing with Bathsheba’s affections.

 

Vinterberg’s new version has all the best qualities of the first one with regard to the visuals, as Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s camera makes Hardy’s rolling Wessex countryside every bit as appealing as before, and Craig Armstrong’s music fits the bill perfectly, while Vinterberg himself transfers Hardy’s complex fiction sympathetically through David Nicholls’ fairly concise screenplay that restricts the action to just under two hours, whereas Frederick Raphael’s 1967 script was nearer three.

 

In Carey Mulligan the film has a real heart at the centre of this tale of a wilful young woman who inherits a farm but cannot make up her mind about selecting the man she should marry from the three who come calling. Should she choose Frank Troy, the soldier with his deftly symbolic swordplay, or William Boldwood, a wealthy fellow landowner, or Gabriel Oak, a poor shepherd who, with a name that suggests solidity and trust, might well be the best catch of all?

 

Apart from Carey Mulligan’s strong performance, Michael Sheen makes a good job of Boldwood and Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel exhibits real charisma in a part that could have been played as just another yokel. If Tom Sturridge as Troy doesn’t quite cut it, then it’s a part that could well elude anyone as it almost did when Terence Stamp endeavoured to play him as more than just a cipher.

 

MICHAEL DARVELL

 

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple, Jessica Barden, Tilly Vosburgh, Hilton McRae, Bradley Hall.

                                                                                                                

Dir Thomas Vinterberg, Pro Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich, Screenplay David Nicholls, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy, Ph Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Pro Des Kave Quinn, Ed Claire Simpson, Music Craig Armstrong, Costumes Janet Patterson.

 

Fox Searchlight Pictures/BBC Films/DNA Films-20th Century Fox.

119 mins. UK/USA. 2015. Rel: 1 May 2015. Cert. 12A.