Movie a Day Blog was never quite the Thomas Hardy fan; give me Charles Dickens and his comic English peculiarities over Hardy’s dour and hardworking Yorkshire men and women.
Still, when strongly suggested as an alternative to the summer’s witless faction are, this latest version of FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015) proved both more and less successful than anticipated.
Carey Mulligan, whose charms beyond a certain winsomeness have generally eluded me, is quite good in the lead role of Bathseba Everdene, the level-headed and hard to please mistress of a small Northern England farm. It is successful thanks only to the managerial skill of her foreman and original suitor, played by Matthais Schoenaerts, the sultry young Belgian actor who here seems as woefully out of place as a Belgian farmer actually might be in 1880s Britain.
It’s impossible watching this impeccably designed and costumed period drama to not fondly recall the passionate 1967 version starring the luminscent Julie Christie and Alan Bates as Gabriel Oak, a man as stolid and earthy as his name. Adding to the inevitable love triangle was Terrence Stamp, dashing and compelling as a military man who turns out to be the biggest mistake Bathsheba makes in her life.
Tom Sturridge fills the role this time, and brings nothing much more than a thin mustache to his characterization, thus rendering Mulligan’s folly even more stupid than Hardy’s plot allows. There isn’t much chemistry between Mulligan and Schoenaerts either; the aptly named young actor Tom Hardy would have been far better casting, but that’s too self-reflexive even for the very self-aware Hardy.
There are strong supporting performances, especially by Michael Sheen, freed at least once from playing a British politician, as Boldwood, the hapless suitor who ends up sacrificing all for Mulligan, who doesn’t seem to give a fig about him.
That’s ultimately the problem with this FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: Mulligan’s Bathsheba is a selfish and overly self-involved creature who makes one colossally bad decision, and then can’t seem to make a right one again until the very end.
Instead of begrudging her some happiness, wanted to see her fulfilled, the way I did with Christie’s hungrier, more sexualized Bathsheba. Sure, Thomas Hardy probably didn’t have a golden beauty like Christie in mind when he envisioned his practical heroine, but what writer can summon a muse like Christie?
Mulligan has the look and feel of a more neo-realist version of Bathsheba that Danish director Thomas Vinterberg apparently has in mind, which is reminiscent of his dogme work in films such as CELEBRATION (1998) and especially his underrated THE HUNT (2012).
But the edge that seems razor-sharp, especially the latter film, is blunted in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD. Hardy comes off more as a soap opera episode writer than a brilliant novelist who had a keen insight into the dark recesses of the British soul.
The material is good enough to merit another try at some point, but I would get the biggest problem out of the way right at the beginning: screen the 1967 version for the entire cast and crew, and then never mention it again. A more original version than this one might result.