2 hours ago
Tuesday, 5 May 2015
Film: 'Far from the Madding Crowd'
I'm surprised and delighted to be able to say so because for me it had two high hurdles to jump, yet achieved it in masterful fashion.
First, it's based on the much admired (deservedly so, I think) and loved Thomas Hardy novel - which, to coincide with this film, I'm currently reading for at least the fourth time - maybe it's the fifth. It's one of my favourite books of all, by one of my very favourite writers. ('Twas not always so. I eventually fell for him when I was around 40, and now few other authors give me such delight).
Second, casting a long shadow, is the 1967 John Schlesinger film, surely one of the seminal movies of that decade, unforgettable after just one viewing. This latter had a formidable cast, Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Peter Finch all already having become established stars by then, with Terence Stamp not yet quite having reached the fame of the others. That casting was well-nigh perfect, as was the film, with Richard Rodney Bennett's evocative background score hauntingly binding it all together.
So to this new release, actually shorter than its predecessor by about three-quarters of an hour. Events gallop along with hardly time for us to draw breath, though it's by no means muddled.
The director is Dane, Thomas Vinterberg, who gave us the very superior 'The Hunt' three years ago.
The central role in this is played by Carey Mulligan, whom I'd never heard of until 'An Education' (2009), since when she's had some terrific 'plum' roles, including 'The Great Gatsby', 'Never Let Me Go', 'Shame' and 'Drive'. I did have misapprehensions about her taking the part of Bathsheba Everdene, fiercely independent and self-confident farm owner, partly because of Julie Christie's indelibly memorable act in the Schlesinger and I wasn't sure that Mulligan could pull off the trick of displaying such a wide spectrum of emotions. But she really does shine.
I was no less impressed with Matthias Schoenhaerts as the most prominent of Bathsheba's three suitors. (We've only very recently seen him in 'Suite Francaise' and 'A Little Chaos', and he's shortly to appear in 'A Bigger Splash'). As a Belgian, his Dorsetshire accent was, to my ears, as perfect as could be wished.
Then there's the redoubtable Michael Sheen, in the role previously played by Peter Finch - the emotionally buttoned-up, middle-aged bachelor, living in desperate hope that he'll attain Bathsheba's hand. Totally convincing and almost heart-breaking.
As the third suitor, the bumptious, forward, rather obnoxious Sergeant Troy, is Tom Sturridge. It's a thankless, difficult part for which I thought Terence Stamp gave his all in the 1967 version, which Sturridge perhaps doesn't quite equal, though he does give it a fair crack. (Incidentally, in a recent radio interview, Stamp tells how gay director John Schlesinger took an impassioned dislike towards him during film, to which Stamp responded by providing an acting turn such as he'd never done before then.) I thought Stamp had a magnetism in the part of his dislikeable character which Sturridge didn't match. Unlike as with Stamp, it was difficult to think why Bathsheba should ever have fallen for him.
Criticism has been made that this new film shies away from showing the reality of the muckiness of farm life. That may be so but it wasn't distracting. And, very importantly, neither was the music, for which gracious thanks!
I had two little personal apprehensions, knowing the novel as I do. How were they going to depict the two tragedies involving, on two separate occasions, two different flocks of sheep? - and how were we going to see what happens to a dog not far into the film. In the event I survived both with very little to haunt my mind for days afterwards as sometimes happens.
Another slight worry was a few occasions of imbalance in sound, which may have been partly due to the speakers in the cinema where I was. One such time was in church where a congregation is singing while, simultaneouly, Bathsheba and her female servant are engaged in whispered conversation. It so happened that I did remember what they were talking about but as regards the film, I couldn't make out a single word they were saying to each other. That's only one instance. There were a couple more, though not enough to spoil the overall enjoyment.
If the film does marginally run short on steam and impetus in the final quarter, despite their being no lessening of 'action', I think that's also true of the book where a little more concision might have increased its effectiveness. But that's only my view.
I think this is a triumph, confounding all my expectations and fears. It doesn't replace the 1967 version for me - it sits happily beside it, sharing the honours...............................8.5.