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Far from the Madding Crowd - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Far from the Madding Crowd
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+

Far from the Madding Crowd has everything you'd want from a period piece: beautiful pastoral landscapes of Victorian England; refined speech and diction; romance in an oppressively patriarchal society. And gorgeous costumes! Actually this might be the only movie you ever see that features a farmer in stunningly designed outfits.

Said farmer is Bathsheba Everdene, played with characteristic nuance by Carey Mulligan. She leads a cast drawn from characters in the 1874 novel by Thomas Hardy. I never read the book so I can't speak to how far ahead of its time it was, although by all accounts this film follows the story closely. The film certainly stands on its own merits, and presents an unusually strong and independent female protagonist, particularly for a story set in the 19th century.

Not that Miss Everdene -- as she is most often addressed -- never makes foolish decisions; she makes plenty. This is perhaps what most makes Far from the Madding Crowd worth watching: Bathsheba stands apart from other women of her time and is a worthy intellectual adversary to any and all men around her, but she's also an imperfect heroine. She's human.

Indeed, the story still revolves around her male suitors, but the contexts of the varied advances of three very different men change with Miss Everdene's circumstances. When we first meet her, she's spending the summer with an aunt. A nearby sheep farmer, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), almost immediately proposes marriage -- which Bathsheba refuses, citing her need to be independent and not a man's property. But then she receives a large inheritance and winds up running her late uncle's farm. (But remember! This has no effect on her amazing wardrobe.) Gabriel, having lost all his sheep due to a shitty sheep dog, crosses her path again and goes to work for her.

Miss Everdene's middle-aged neighbor, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), misinterprets a joke valentine she sends him. Marriage proposal #2! And there's still a third man, a soldier (Tom Sturridge) seemingly much more suited to Bathsheba in age and physicality.

Bathsheba does end up married to one of these men, and it's almost curious that director Thomas Vinterberg largely gleans over the power a husband held over a woman in the 19th century. He mostly eschews any kind of sociopolitical commentary, in favor of focusing on the evolution of Bathsheba's relationship with all three of these men. She does have a great line when trying to express herself in the wake of yet another proposal, though: "It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs." This line is directly lifted from the book, in fact, revealing an impressive amount of understanding on the part of the author.

We watch Bathsheba learn and grow, until she stops letting her own pride get in her way. This is a character treated with much respect and who stands as a great example even in a 21st-century context. Sure, at its core, Far from the Madding Crowd is just a romance, but it's never trite. It's beautiful to look at, with stunning scenery, and lovely to listen to, with its linguistic sophistication. All the performers shine, but none more than Mulligan herself, with a certain expressiveness that is all her own and infectious to watch.

Period dramas are pretty specific as a genre and aren't everyone's thing. For those who enjoy them, though, especially those that are done well, this is one that doesn't disappoint.

Carey Mulligan enhances the already beautiful scenery in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD.

Just because you're running a farm doesn't mean you can't have fabulous dresses.

Overall: B+
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