Crowdpleaser: Far from the Madding Crowd

MoviesBy Esther McCarthy
Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene
Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene

This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel is a stylish and (mostly) well-acted tale of one woman’s relationships with three very different men. But there are problems in its execution.

The story centres on Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan), a stubborn, independent and headstrong young woman who lives among a farming community in 1870s West Country. 

Her beauty and spirited attitude make her stand out from many of the women in polite society during this period — where her determination to forge her own independence is regarded with suspicion. 

This single-mindedness comes to the fore when she inherits a large, but rundown, working farm from her uncle, and is faced with the challenge of restoring it to its former glory. 

But that very same personality puts her on the radar of three different men. They include Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts) a sheep farmer who has fallen on hard times, William Boldwood, a wealthy older landowner (Sheen) and a wayward but handsome soldier named Frank Troy (Sturridge). 

Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene opposite Mattias Schoenaerts

Danish director Thomas Vinterberg has certainly given us an attractive-looking period drama that never fails to engage. But it falls somewhat short of really bringing to life the heart and soul of Hardy’s novel. 

Much has been made of Carey Mulligan’s performance, and while it’s technically fine, I found the young British actress to be miscast here. I just didn’t believe her as the tough, wilful and not always sympathetic Everdene. Her performance is too clipped and nuanced to really make you believe in some of her character’s actions, particularly in the latter half of the film. 

But Mulligan’s casting is stronger than that of Tom Sturridge, all at sea as the flirtatious solider Troy. Their scenes together never feel likely or real. To be fair, Sturridge is not helped by his hasty and underdeveloped characterisation. 

The other male leads, by comparison, are super — in particular Sheen’s wealthy landowner, desperate to find some love in his life. In fact, his scenes with Oak, as they form a friendship, are among the most affecting in the film.