Having seen Far from the Madding Crowd at this year’s SFF, Glen Falkenstein concludes that sometimes, casting just works.
Heiress Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) takes over a large farm and property in the latest Thomas Hardy adaptation. She meets down-on-his-luck yet earnest farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), spurned Sergeant and gadabout Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) and elder, terminal bachelor businessman William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). An awkward love quadrangle of sorts ensues, with one particular story providing the emotional thrust of the narrative.
In the best tradition of The Age of Innocence, Far from the Madding Crowd is told largely through action, not by regurgitating large parts of the novel. Impossible to adequately consume the entirety of Hardy’s prose in two hours, complex dialogue and relationships are often ably conveyed through simple actions and gestures. Whole tracts are translated into short sequences and overtly physical yet restrained interactions between characters. Wide photography is used to aptly capture the scenery and random moments of characters galloping through on horses, doing justice to their struggles as well.
This is Carey Mulligan’s best casting decision since she took the lead role in An Education, propelling her to fame in 2009. She is both charming and sporadically frustrating as Bathsheba, an altogether sympathetic depiction which glosses over the moral ambiguity of so many of her actions. Mulligan achieved something similar in The Great Gatsby as Daisy; she is a commanding and impactful Bathsheba, though her positioning in the film, partly as a victim of circumstance, renders her thoroughly more compassionate and endearing than in Gatsby.
Schoenaerts is also tailor-made for this movie following his turn in A Little Chaos, playing a not-dissimilar character engaged in designing a garden with Kate Winslet, his reserved affection for the protagonist slowly growing. It’s as if the director saw both films and treated them as casting-calls, with both Mulligan and Schoenaerts playing familiar yet still engaging characters.
Bathsheba tells her new staff that “it is my intention to astonish you all,” a line attempting to neatly encapsulate the film while serving its dues as stock publicity footage. Certainly shocking in parts, Far from the Madding Crowd is a highly likeable and consuming adaptation which benefited from the right actors being in the right place at the right time.
Far from the Madding Crowd is playing at the Sydney Film Festival.