By Megan Bianco
Those who are unfamiliar with Thomas Hardy’s writing might be surprised that his novel “Far from the Madding Crowd“ is not only a female-led plot with feminist themes, but also currently adapted by a male director and male screenwriter. For a book written in 1874, the tone and morals featured throughout the tale, especially shown on screen, still feel remarkably modern. English actress Carey Mulligan, who has always looked appropriate in period pieces and is also active in supporting female films, chose the movie as her return to lead film roles after spending a year on stage with Bill Nighy for “Skylight.” The collaboration with Thomas Vinterberg and David Nicholls fortunately succeeded in her favor.
In mid-19th century England, Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan) describes herself as fiercely independent and to the point that once she’s been given her uncle’s entire estate and cash assets when he suddenly dies, she dedicates her life to keeping the house and farm running. Because she has her future set out for her solo, she doesn’t see the need or have the interest in ever getting married. But at the same time her business thrives, three suitors all coincidentally fall in love with her and propose marriage at separate periods in her young life. There is the silent and strong Mr. Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts); mature and responsible Mr. Baldwood (Michael Sheen); and the lusty and wild Sgt. Troy (Tom Sturridge). While Bathsheba has no problem declining their proposals with her voice, her body and heart have a hard time denying the unexpected attraction she feels.
Juno Temple co-stars as Sturridge’s first fiancée. “Madding Crowd“ is not a typical love story, as the main focus is Bathsheba and her choice to continue success on her own or share her life with a man who loves and respects her. Screenwriter Nicholls was a natural choice for the script as his adaptation of the 2008 mini-series of Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” was well received. Vinterberg, the acclaimed Danish filmmaker of “The Celebration“ (1998) and “The Hunt“ (2012), is an unconventional choice to film Hardy’s tale, but gives the feature a unique and artsy quality to it.
“Madding Crowd” and the biopic “Suffragette“ later this year show Mulligan clearly has an interest in the history of feminism, and appearing in both back-to-back could possibly be her way of sending a signal to studios to keep producing films with women leads. Here she has the difficult task of portraying Bathsheba as stern, but also endearing, and does so with her sophisticated delivery and a sweet smile. She’s confident, yet confused. Mulligan gives a great performance as a lady who struggles to find out if it’s possible to have both an independent calling and also have a love to share it with. Though this summer has begun with the sci-fi pictures “Ex Machina“ and “Avengers: Age of Ultron“ popular at the box-office, “Far from the Madding Crowd“ would be the best alternate choice for someone looking for romance and drama.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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