Respect for Strong Performances, But Still Crave the Original

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015). USA/UK. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. With Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Michael Sheen.

Few film moments jarred me as much as Terrence Stamp in the role of Sergeant Troy menacing Julie Christie playing Bathsheba in the 1967 rendition of Far From the Madding Crowd.  I approached this latest portrayal with an open mind, yet that same brain kept flashing back to key scenes from the earlier version.  Vinterberg created a beautiful, bucolic countryside and maintained the literary source’s strong characters; however, the rhythm and sensibility strayed from the excellence of John Schlesinger.

For those unfamiliar of the film’s source material, Thomas Hardy‘s novel Far From the Madding Crowd published in 1874 centers upon a young modern, ambitious woman named Bathsheba whose sudden inheritance thrusts her into a powerful position as farmer.  She relishes inserting herself into male dominated spheres while neglecting her emotional awareness with male attention at times.  Critically acclaimed, Hardy’s fourth novel inaugurated his literary success after failed attempts initially with poetry.  It should be noted that Far From the Madding Crowd is not as dreary and pessimistic as Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895).

Regrouping after the screening, I noted that the quiet moments were offset with narrative accelerations.  Vinterberg’s camera would linger on Bathsheba and Farmer Gabriel Oak’s faces to heighten the thoughts unexpressed behind the gazes.  Then resembling a jolt, a plot point would move swiftly along leaving the characters’ necessary slower scenes discordantly and falsely dragging the pacing.  In the 1967 example, Schlesinger had an hour’s worth more time to build the peculiarities of William Boldwood (Peter Finch) and level of devastation wrought by Sergeant Troy.  With Schlesinger, viewers inhabited the interiors and exteriors of the production and the characters in permeating ways.

It is counterproductive to contrast Christie and Mulligan’s beauty barometer because they are both gorgeous, and it reinforces the reductive critique of females.  Rather, I want to expound about why this choice role of Bathsheba is tempting.  Charming, cute, and formidable, Carey Mulligan exudes savvy and autonomy.  Her Bathsheba is pleasant and industrious. Once Julie Christie entered the frame in 1967, everything else blurs.  Mulligan is a dominant presence, but not as bewitching as Christie.  Frankly, Christie is so synonymous with the character that Mulligan’s arresting portrayal cannot be appreciated objectively.  In her career, Mulligan has selected caliber projects such as An Education (2009), Shame (2011), Pride and Prejudice (2005), and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013).  Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) continues her trend of complicated female characters and screenplays that are generated with great quality.  Gifted and discerning actresses like Carey Mulligan covet the Bathsheba role.  Not many cinematic releases do fulfill the satisfying range found in Far From the Madding Crowd, so I understand how adapting this novel again is worthwhile, but then I also posit could there had been a fresh or new story to bring to life.

Reviewing the male performances, Farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) is delectable to where Bathsheba’s marriage refusal seems partly disappointing.  In the original, Alan Bates playing Farmer Oak is a slower sell to Bathsheba and audiences.  In that way, Bathsheba’s learning curve feels more hard-worn.  In assessing the Sergeant Troys, the brooding sexuality of Terrence Stamp in his prime throws asunder the rationalism professed by Bathsheba.  Tom Sturridge had a hard act to follow, and his horrible treatment of Bathsheba is not as long suffering or psychologically disturbing.   Knowingly, this could have been a consequence of the shorten film length, yet Stamp always had this haunting quality.

While I wish film houses would find more notable material like Far From the Madding Crowd to support, I recommend audiences first view director Schlesinger’s magnificent 3-hour film starring Julie Christie (Schlesinger directed her debut in Darling), Alan Bates, Peter Finch, and Terrence Stamp.

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