Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Far from the Madding Crowd [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review (A.W. Murray) review
Sight&Sound (T. Wakefield) review
The Guardian (P. Bradshaw) review

Far from the Madding Crowd [2015] (directed by Thomas Vinterberg, screenplay by David Nichols based on the classic novel [Wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] by Thomas Hardy [wikip] [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is IMHO an excellent if still at times uneven adaptation of Hardy's work.  I do believe that both the film's strengths as well as its weaknesses result from film-makers' attempt to make the film both relateable and a pleasant viewing experience to today's younger viewers.

The story's relatability to contemporary concerns proves actually to be not much of a problem.  For this is a story of a young Victorian woman, Bathsheba Everdene (played by Carey Mulligan) who, while she did not dislike men, found that she also prized her independence.  I do believe that quite a few young women today could immediately appreciate Bathsheba's "dilemma" / "good fortune." 

Now how could a young woman of her time have the luxury of being so free?  Well, though like so many of Thomas Hardy's characters Bathsheba experienced fair number of rather radical reversals of fortune during her lifetime, she is introduced to the Reader/Viewer as having been born to a relatively well-to-do family (before being orphaned), hence having had the opportunity to become relatively educated early in life.  That early education stayed with her even after the death of her parents and her having been shunted-off to a poor spinster aunt in the countryside as a result.  Then early in the story, by sheer luck, Bathsheba inherited a large farm from a rich uncle who had no other heirs (American Viewers/Readers would recognize the "large farm" as more of a "plantation" complete with many dozens of "field hands").  So Bathsheba found herself both relatively educated and (so long as she could manage the farm reasonably well ... her basic education came in handy) with a secure means of income.  So _unlike_ most women of her time, she found that she didn't really _need_ a man to support her. 

Today, of course, a lot more women are finding themselves with a similar degree of freedom as Bathsheba enjoyed in this tale, hence WHY I believe this story works so well for our time.

Now during the course of Hardy's tale, there are three men of different ages, stations and circumstances -- the born poorer but hardworking / enterprising small-time farmer/field hand Gabriel Oak [IMDb] (played here by Matthias Schoenaerts), the wealthier but significantly older and socially insecure William Baldwood [IMDb] (played in this adaptation by Michael Sheen) and the confident to cocky, but with issues Sergeant Francis Troy [IMDb] (played by here Tom Sturridge) -- who enter into the life of Bathsheba.  All three, at least initially, don't understand WHY Bathsheba would not be romantically, that is, matrimonially interested in them.  The Viewer, of course, immediately understands, but THEY don't ;-).  And again how many times THE SAME STORY plays out in contemporary times with young, even quite successful, men not understanding WHY a young woman of their desire would not necessarily find them as romantically / commitment / matrimonially worthy.

So it makes for a great story.

Now the greatest shortcoming of this film adaptation stems from another contemporary concern: Fear that an audience today (and particularly a young one) would not be able to stay focused long enough to tell the story right.  So the film length stays just under two hours at the cost of keeping the level of character development of a number of the key persons in this story to an almost "cartoon" level.  This is particularly unfortunate as the cinematography in this film is often so stunning -- think of the beautiful cinematography of the recent period piece Mr. Turner [2014] about the British master artist J.M.W. Turner without having to deal with Turner's rather annoying / cankerous personality --  that many / most Viewers probably would not mind lingering in the "world" painted this story for a far longer time.  I do believe that this film could have gone easily for another half hour without encountering any "attention span" problems at all and could have gone to three hours (like the 1967 version) without much difficulty.  Each of the LOTR movies went for three or more hours.  Why not have let this movie go longer, especially since cutting it to two hour significantly diminished the story's character development?

As such, while the film, such as it was, was quite good to excellent, it still could have been much better.  Perhaps a "director's cut" will come-out with the DVD / Blu-Ray ...

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1 comment:

  1. It sounds really interesting. I think I've read the book before.