Far from the Madding Crowd
Straight but stirring adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel starring Carey Mulligan
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg helming an adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel is a curious notion. From provocative Dogme 95 film Festen to nail-biting modern morality tale The Hunt, his anti-establishment sensibility might seem an odd fit for a literary classic. So it's an unexpected pleasure to discover his take on Far from the Madding Crowd is as straight-up as they come. The only thing radical about this, as far as Vinterberg is concerned, is that there's nothing radical about it at all. No noticeable attempt to update the story, nor pull any narrative stunts – which will doubtless come as a huge relief to fans of the novel.
Based around one of Hardy's most intriguing heroines, second only to Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the story follows Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a headstrong rural lass who inherits a farm and attracts the attention of three contrasting suitors. The first is lowly shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), who proposes marriage almost instantly but faces rejection. The second is the well-to-do William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), an eligible bachelor somewhat older than Bathsheba. But it's the unscrupulous Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge) that sets her pulse racing.
While Mulligan may not be quite up to the calibre of Julie Christie yet (the star of John Schlesinger's more characterful 1967 version) she still makes for a convincing Bathsheba – whether she's firing a disgruntled employee, or securing the harvest in a brutal storm. Vinterberg presents the Dorset countryside in all its glory and brings powerfully to the screen some of the book's more shocking episodes – not least when Oak's flock is driven to its doom by a wild sheepdog. For all the bucolic beauty and ravishing romance, we're reminded that violence is never far from the surface – and Vinterberg captures the brewing tragedy magnificently.
General release from Fri 1 May.