Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan in Far From the Madding Crowd
Credit: Alex Bailey

Thomas Hardy’s classic Victorian tale about one woman’s dueling desires for feminist independence and fiery passion has been catnip for filmmakers dating back to 1915, the most famous adaptation being 1967’s angsty Anglo incarnation starring Julie Christie. But Thomas Vinterberg’s latest version is, hands down, the best yet. With a steely resilience burning beneath her delicate, creamy complexion, Carey Mulligan brings remarkable nuance and a rich inner life to the role of Bathsheba Everdene, a modest English country girl who inherits her late uncle’s farm, leading to a wealth of choices most women at the time wouldn’t dare to dream possible. Those, naturally, include a trio of romantic suitors: the earthy shepherd who was smitten with her even before she came into money (Matthias Schoenaerts), the rich and slightly bumbling landowner next door (Michael Sheen), and the rakish bad boy in uniform (Tom Sturridge). The only problem with Vinterberg’s love-quadrangle setup is that his casting of the film makes it too obvious who Mr. Right is from the get-go: Schoenaerts’ Gabriel Oak. Hell, his protective sturdiness is right there in his name. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Belgian actor, with his sandy stubble and wounded eyes, has the dreamily brooding charisma of a young Daniel Day-Lewis. Since it would be a very short movie if Bathsheba were as quick to zero in on Oak as we are, she must suffer first (Hardy was a product of his patriarchal times, after all). Thankfully, Mulligan refuses to play the helpless, hapless victim. She’s strong and smart and sensual. Even if you don’t consider yourself an easy mark for literary bodice-rippers served with a side of sexual politics, this Madding Crowd gives you plenty of reason to swoon. B+

Far From the Madding Crowd
2015 movie
  • Movie
  • 119 minutes