Far from the Madding Crowd  

Carey Mulligan asserts her independence in this Thomas Hardy adaptation.

click to enlarge Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan star in Far from the Madding Crowd

Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan star in Far from the Madding Crowd

The bucolic British countryside, like pornography, has a preordained end. BBC Films like Far from the Madding Crowd, which haunt our PBS stations and Academy Awards, are full of restrained and elevated diction and dress working their way to release.

Far from the Madding Crowd enriches this formula by placing Carey Mulligan front and center, often photographed in front of beautifully filmed landscapes as if green-screened there. Mulligan is great at registering emotions on her face and working to sequester them in her mouth. With a shock of mad-scientist hair dribbling over her forehead and a triple set of dimples, she constantly looks left and right and communicates sharply whatever her character won't say.

Her costar Matthias Schoenaerts is a great match as Gabriel Oak, a beautifully bearded, aptly named rugged bit of handsome restraint. Their meet-cute over sheep is edited briskly, the vibrant colors of her dresses and the rolling hills changing to suggest even the editor is bored with this genre. As the film starts, it's a pleasure to watch Mulligan turn down a series of too-sudden marriage proposals: She comes off like a modern girl in a world of traditional male suitors.

click to enlarge Carey Mulligan and Tom Sturridge
  • Carey Mulligan and Tom Sturridge

But unfortunately, as an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's early novel, the movie cannot go where the casting and early scenes suggest and create a kind of In the Mood for Love for Wessex. Nods toward the difficulty of being a woman in a patriarchal agrarian society are made. Work is something mostly offscreen or metaphorical and delegated to peasant types. The English-speaking past is exoticized as a place where mildly aristocratic people can get over their shyness and find love.

As always, animal husbandry and farming are there to give something elemental: Udders are milked, fields shine, tadpoles are glimpsed in pools, but there is a remove — you know none of these details will touch the main plot or heroine. Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights did this, but better. The brutality of everyday animal murder on a farm, which looked real but was fake, sold both the violent passions of the narrative and the alien nature of the past through the outsider protagonist's eyes.

Here, the dark melancholy of later Hardy books isn't fully formed in the plot. The most evocative non-romantic bit comes early, when Oak's sheep get herded off a cliff to smash on a beach and Oak bitterly shoots the responsible dog. That rough-hewn shock gives way to a standard plot and two well-cast but underwritten suitors. Michael Sheen's Boldwood is all obsession and stammering. Tom Sturridge's Sergeant Troy has a pool-cue nose, pert moustache, and pouty lips straight out of villain central casting. But they lack definition, and when the story jumps forward in ellipsis and suggestion, we don't know how to take it. The pair primarily embody the two mistakes of marrying for sex and money, but only that. There's a great bit where Troy drops his caddiness as he talks to his pregnant ex-girlfriend. It suddenly seems like the story will be jarringly modern, and the characters will mutually recognize that while illegitimate pregnancy in the 1800s may be a scandal, financial accommodation for destitute mothers is a must.

Likewise Troy's erotic and possibly metaphorical sword prowess demonstration in the woods is another nicely jarring bit where the movie suddenly seems like it could go anywhere other than the regular stops. Sex might not result in shame. Choosing the wrong first boyfriend might be an ordinary misstep. But the movie adheres to Hardy's plot without enthusiasm. A late murder is not set up well, and the body lands like a feather.

What works are Mulligan and Schoenaerts. Arguing over a scythe sharpener, degasifying the bellies of sheep, working to cover phallic haystacks in the rain, their sly rapport is better than the plot. Mulligan so often does this kind of character well. In Never Let Me Go and Drive, she played restrained characters who interact painfully with the world. But those worlds were weirder. Here, director Thomas Vinterberg, one of the Dogme 95 creators, is far too normal. Mulligan's character avers her independence constantly, to the end uninterested in affirming marriage proposals, even as she is stuck in a movie operated by their mechanics.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

    • Wildlife

      Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are a couple in crisis in Paul Dano’s directorial debut.
    • Bohemian Rhapsody

      The Glossy Biopic Can’t Live Up To Freddy Mercury’s Legend
    • The Old Man And The Gun

      Robert Redford retires at the top of his game


Tiger Blue

Tigers 109, Yale 102 (2 OT)

Tiger Blue

Tigers 28, SMU 18

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies Defeat Kings 112-104

Hungry Memphis

Zopita's on the Square to open Nov. 19

We Saw You

Indie Film Fest, Grilled Cheese Fest, Adapt-A-Door and more!

Hungry Memphis

Little Italy Opening Downtown

News Blog

Seven Vie for Vacant District 1 Council Seat

News Blog

Group of White Women Test Mall’s No Hoodie Policy

Hungry Memphis

The Nine Now Open

Fly On The Wall Blog

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?


More by Ben Siler

  • Halloween (2018)

    • Oct 24, 2018
  • Venom

    • Oct 5, 2018
  • Hell Fest

    Music festivals and slasher flicks should both be more fun than this
    • Oct 5, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Death Grip

    Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
    • Apr 19, 2018
  • The Lost City of Z

    A mesmerizing story of obsession in the Amazon jungle
    • May 1, 2017
  • Fifty Shades Freed

    Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?
    • Feb 16, 2018
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation