It feels a little bit strange to have an adaptation of classic romance novel Far From The Madding Crowd be made for modern audiences considering how far gender politics have come since the Victorian era. Ostensibly a film about a woman trying to decide between three potential suitors and ultimately choosing the one who has acted as a companion to her for many years, through a modern progressive lens this seems to be the tale of a man who got rejected by a woman but chose to stick around as she moved from relationship to relationship, chilling in the friend zone while he waits for her to make the “right” choice. Sure, there’s something to be said about this story being from a certain era and one must take it as such, but a film adaptation of such a work is made for a modern audience, and those thematic issues have only become more obvious in the intervening 140 years.
However, that being said, this is the type of film that will draw fans of the book regardless of my criticisms of the story itself. No, this is the type of film where people go to see good acting and pretty costumes, and, like any good BBC production (which co-produced with Fox Searchlight), Madding Crowd delivers. Carrey Mulligan steals the show as Bathsheba Everdeen, as she certainly knows how to handle a close-up whether she’s teary-eyed, determined, or attempting to keep her emotions in check. The rest of the cast fares well too, with the notable exception of Tom Sturridge as suitor Frank Troy. Sturridge gives Frank such a flat affect that it’s hard to tell whether this was an attempt at making the abusing character more menacing or just laziness on Sturridge’s part. Either way, it doesn’t work.
Ultimately, though, the film doesn’t work for one main reason: it doesn’t really try to. Like I said, the acting is good and the costuming is elegant, but the whole film feels like it was shot with the efficiency of a weekly television show or a low-budget miniseries. There’s rarely anything interesting to look at except for the close-ups of the characters’ faces, but that begins to wear thin as one begins to lose interest in even the historical setting. Director Thomas Vinterberg seems to have directed this thing on auto-pilot, or at least didn’t seem to care whether his cinematographer was even awake.
Fans of the book will probably like this film regardless of anything I may say for the simple reason that it brings the novel to life. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t really speak to comparison, though I did find that the third act felt rushed and cluttered with a number of plot twists that seem to come out of nowhere. But if you aren’t a fan of the Thomas Hardy novel, I don’t think I can really recommend the adaptation, as it is a dull, by-the-numbers affair that doesn’t seem to be interested in being much more than a faithful retelling.