Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Film: 'Far from the Madding Crowd'

This is a lovely film.
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.


  1. This is one I really want to see. I am a huge Carey Mulligan fan, and Michael Sheen is also a favorite!
    Glad you enjoyed it ... now I must find the book because I have not read it.

    1. Bob, you remind me that there is something I omitted from the above - so I'll say it here. In a radio interview Carey Mulligan admits that she's neither read the book nor seen the earlier film, so it's doubly remarkable that she does such a efficient and amazing job - for which I feel we must thank the director for showing her the way to enter into the spirit of the novel's central character.
      Sheen, here with full beard, is always so watchable, and one can't help but feel deep sympathy for his character. I wanted to hug him!
      You're definitely going to like this - 'cos I know you have TASTE! ;-)

  2. I thought that it was superb too Ray. The acting was first class and you're quite right about the book!

    1. Excellent, Craig. If we'd disagreed I would have felt distraught, but it's evident that we both recognise quality when we see it!

  3. I usually dislike any attempt at a film remake, but I'm delighted to know that this one can at least "sit happily beside" the original 1967 version. I first read the novel when I was 15 and it didn't impress me. Subsequent readings have proved how wrong my initial impression was.

    I first saw "Far From the Madding Crowd" around 1974 and loved it (it was still being shown in California theaters at that time). Superb film. I haven't yet seen the remake, but your review has expunged my hesitations.

    I remember when I was a young teen, I had a crush on Terence Stamp. He was almost old enough to be my father.....but he was hot in Billy Budd. Can hardly believe he's now about 76.

    1. Jon, there's a cleaned-up, re-issued edition of the 1967 film doing the rounds in this country at the moment, brought out to coincide with this new version. Pity that, showing only in late evenings, I haven't been able to catch it, though the original film has been shown on Network TV once or twice in recent years.

      I'd have been 20 when I first saw it and at that time I had the hots for Alan Bates in the earthy, rugged condition he plays here. But I do remember taking a active DISlike to the Terence Stamp character, just the opposite of you - though I suppose it was more because of the odiousness of that person portrayed than the actor playing him. At that time if I knew of Stamp at all it was only in the most vague way.
      I'd forgotten about 'Billy Budd' which I've never seen and is probably be one of my most glaring omissions, but it's a film that now seems to have sunk with no trace. Looks like it deserves to be on my 'must see' list.

      I hope what I say about this new 'Crowd' will mean that you'll go to see it in a cinema in the medium in which it is best viewed.

    2. You're right about "Billy Budd". It seemed to be a very popular film when it first came out but has since "sunk with no trace". I saw it so long ago that it's vague in my memory. But I do remember that Robert Ryan was despicable (I mean the character that he portrayed) and Terence Stamp was cute.

      Sorry for my seemingly endless comments.

    3. Jon, I would have thought that a film like 'Billy Budd' would have had a ready-made fan club but it's just one of the vast majority of films, a lot of them of high standard, that, for generations after being made, may as well not have appeared at all. I don't know how it is where you live but on TV we get endless repeats of the same film for years and years - a current one is the Jim Carrey's, 'Liar Liar' - rather than some hidden gem of which there are many thousands languishing in oblivion. I think it's something to do with the package deals TV companies make, obliging them to keep showing the same handful of films of a very restricted range. Sad when there are countless treasures out there.

      Btw: Don't apologise for making your comments, long or otherwise. I never cease to be flattered that someone has taken their time to 'talk' to me, especially since I have no friends at all 'in the flesh' - apart from my cats.

  4. Ray,
    Thanks for this review! I haven't seen the 1967 version of "Far From the Maddening Crowd" but I will now thanks to your review. This is exactly my kind of film, human drama. While my friend Pat prefers the "Fast and Furious" type of film, I'm more of a "Downton Abbey" film fan.
    Another excellent review from my talented (and unpaid) film reviewer friend Ray!

    1. If you can, Ron, try to see both versions. They are quite different yet both still faithful to the spirit of the same novel. Being your 'type' of film I can promise that you are going to enjoy it two times over! And see if you can persuade Pat to share the experience and maybe he'll realise what he's been missing all these years.

  5. Bloody hell Ray
    Thats a stupendous score for you!

    1. The stratospheric rating is justified, J.G., though it's not the first one this year to get that score from me.
      In the unlikely event that you'll see me giving something a '9', if you do it will be a guarantee that that film will be in my Top 5 of 'Greatest Films EVER'! As I say, rather unlikely at my late stage of life, though not impossible.

  6. I may have to give this one a watch. I did read the book, loved Terence Stamp in the 1967 version, and wasn't sure I wanted to see this remake. You've convinced me it's worth considering.

    1. Oh, it definitely is, Megan. It shouldn't displace any affection you had for the earlier one - it's more of an alternative, equally valid view.
      You're also the second person here who had a positive view of Terence Stamp, though I was lost in the unattractiveness of the character he was playing which, I suppose, is a tribute to his acting.
      Please go and see!

  7. I am hoping that we will go on date night to see this.

  8. Sol, this film should make an excellent choice to see for that time.
    I didn't know that the term 'date night' was established and used for a particular occasion though, looking it up, I'd guessed what it meant.