Look out, Marcus Mumford. You’ve got lots of competition coming your way.
In Victorian England, single, independent and smart farm-owner Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) lives a comfortable life where men are always asking for her hand in marriage. After she inherits her uncle’s farm, and all the riches that come along with it, plenty more men come her way, but mostly, in the forms of three, very different men. Suitor one is Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer who asked for Bathsheba’s hand in marriage early on before she got rich, and still clearly has the hots for her, as she does for him. Suitor two is Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), an army Sergeant who, after being stood-up at the altar by his ex (Juno Temple) is currently pissed-off and always drunk, although he catches Bathsheba’s eyes many of times; and suitor three is William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a rich, much older man who constantly stalks Bathsheba no matter where she goes, and always seems to be infatuated with her it borderlines on the verge of being creepy. All three suitors have their own pros and cons for Bathsheba, but it’s fully up to her to make her own decision and come to the conclusion as to who she wants in her life as a mate, if she even wants one at all.
Every year, especially around this time, it seems like we’re all treated to British, Victorian-era period pieces that are clearly targeted to whomever isn’t interested in seeing Avengers for the third of fourth time. While this is a smart marketing plan by whoever makes these kinds of decisions, it leaves one to wonder if these movies are any good in the first place? Surely, not every movie has to feature robots, things blowing up, and CGI, but by the same token, do we really need to get so many period pieces around the same time of the year where only a fine majority will actually go out to see and enjoy them?
Maybe these are questions best suited elsewhere, but anyway, that’s one of the main reasons why Far From the Maddening Crowd worked for me, as opposed to so many other prestige, British dramas of the same vein.
While it’s all very luscious to look at, serious, professional, and color-codded in a way to make older people gasp and gaze at a time when things were a lot simpler, it’s still also a very modern story that doesn’t take too much time or effort to think about. Sure, Far From the Maddening Crowd is still a complex tale with plenty of layers to decipher, but basically, what it really is, is a story of one woman deciding who she wants to be with in her life. Some of that may not seem like it comes at any cost, but the movie makes the good point that, in at least Bathsheba’s case, there totally is.
Bathsheba is an independent free-thinker that doesn’t need a man to define who she is, what she does, or what she can do for those around her, but at the same time, she wants that never ending feeling of love and happiness that mostly comes with having a mate in one’s life. She doesn’t need it, but she wants it, and that’s what makes her tail all the more complex, as it’s a smart one that doesn’t try to tell all women out there that, “All you need to make yourself happy is a man, and that’s it. Everything else is poppycock.”
And it’s also a perfect piece of casting to have Carey Mulligan in the role that, from what I’m supposed to believe, is the one female character to inspire many generations of ones to come. Mulligan doesn’t have a great amount of range (or at least, none of which that I’ve totally seen yet), but she’s good here as Bathsheba Everdene because she’s not only gorgeous, but doesn’t seem stupid. Sure, she makes the silly mistake of falling for the wrong guy and marrying him at one point, but she isn’t a dope that could be easily swayed one way; with her, it would take a lot of time and effort on one’s behalf to really impress her, which makes Bathsheba all the more compelling to watch.
Not to mention that it helps make her three suitors entertaining, even if one does get a tad too over-the-top for his own good.
Though Tom Sturridge is a fine actor and does what he can here, his Frank Troy here is just too one-note. Sure, we feel bad for the dude because he gets stood-up at the altar for all of the wrong reasons, but once we realize that he’s the main antagonist that the movie is going to rely on, the role gets a bit more bland. He’s there to basically stir the shit when the shit needs stirring and it just comes off as lazy and manipulative on the part of director Thomas Vinterberg. Maybe this was how he was written, I’m not sure, but all I know is that it doesn’t wholly work.
That said, Sturridge doesn’t blur the fact that both Michael Sheen and especially, Matthias Schoenaerts, are great here and allow for these two characters to seem more deep than they may actually be written as being. Sure, Sheen’s character may be a total and complete creep, that can’t help but find Bathsheba whenever she’s in a dark, confined hallway, but also seems like a genuinely nice guy who is willing to do whatever he can to get the love of his life. Once again, not saying I fully condone his actions, but the dude’s inspired by something, so I’ll give him that.
The one who obviously seems like the perfect fit for Bathsheba is Schoenaerts’ Gabriel Oak – a character who seems so hokey, that he sort of works. He’s the quiet, stern and silent type, but he’s also incredibly handsome, hot and capable of fixing anything and everything that needs fixing. Clearly, he seems like the perfect fit for Bathsheba, but because she doesn’t go for him right off the bat, were left waiting and wondering when that may happen, if at all. I’ve only seen Schoenaerts in a few films or so, and I have to say, the dude has impressed me tons. Not only does he find ways to further challenge himself, but doesn’t seem pigeon-holed as being the Brando-clone that he was made out to be so early in his career.
Can’t wait to see what he’s got next, but let’s just hope that it isn’t another British period-piece. I can only handle so many of these a year.
Consensus: Like most period pieces, it’ll appeal to some, and not to others, but Far From the Maddening Crowd features a top-notch ensemble, with a romantic story that goes certain places that are interesting, believable, and fun to watch, all at the same time.
7.5 / 10