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Film Review: Third time's the charm for this modern take on Thomas Hardy's classic

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Apparently, the late nineteenth century was a realm of indecision. Patience grows thin and heartstrings are stressed in Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Far from the Madding Crowd.

The film trails a Victorian farm owner’s ascent into a primarily male-dominated industry, paying particularly close attention to the three trails of love she treads. Though placed in the time of its source material, the film injects a modern tinge to Hardy’s story. In doing so, Vinterberg reveals the unseen timelessness of this Victorian romance.

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a young scholar visiting her aunt in the English countryside. Her stay leads her to mingle with a dedicated shepherd, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts). After denying several of his marital advances, Bathsheba moves away in order to preserve her independence. After the death of her uncle, she receives custody of the family grain farm. An error involving one of Gabriel’s collies forces him to find new work after the death of most of his flock, and eventually, Gabriel finds his way to Bathsheba’s farm, a business in dire need of improvement. Two potential suitors actively court Bathsheba: William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a wealthy and successful farmer, and Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a dashing and arrogant young sergeant with a tendency toward violent outbursts. Gradually, this love trapezoid spirals into a perilous crescendo.

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The beauty of Dorset, the rustic backdrop for the movie, might initially take one aback. Massive, hilly vistas and coasts populate much of Far from the Madding Crowd, and in moments where the narrative lulls, the lush landscape tends to compensate for any idleness.

That being said, the film isn’t the most riveting. Though the final movements of the film do make a bit of haste, the initial two acts are not particularly engaging. Still, the rise of one of the very few female entrepreneurs does lend itself to a bit of intrigue, and Bathsheba’s periodic quips send many of her more masculine counterparts reeling. Unfortunately, even intimate moments later in the film seem to favor dramatics over the heroine’s insight.

Still, Mulligan’s performance is to be heavily commended. Harkening back to Northanger Abbey and 2013’s The Great Gatsby, the actress’ abilities in a more classical setting are obvious. In fact, she fills the role far better than the somewhat antiquated endeavor of Julie Christie several decades prior. Mulligan’s performance is so outstanding that it quite easily outshines many of her fellow performers, save the work of Sheen.

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Far from the Madding Crowd, much like its source material, does offer up a didactic that stands the test of time. Indecision, especially when one’s own independence comes into question, is a natural inclination. Likewise, chivalry is thankfully dead — very, very dead. There’s something to be admired in a tale of waiting and persistence, one that lauds lengthy development rather than gung-ho puppy love.

Vinterberg’s rendition of Hardy’s famous novel is definitely the best out of the three silver screen adaptations, each about fifty years apart. Though that might not seem like much of compliment, it does suggest that the work itself, in the right hands, has aged adequately. It might not be the most accessible, but a powerful lead performer and stunning set design saves this film from falling into the generic vault of countless period pieces.

Print headline: Triple play, The third time is a charm for this modern take on a Thomas Hardy classic.

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