Take a Drink: whenever there is a shot of Bathsheba riding on a horse across palatial settings
Take a Drink: for blatantly forced coincidence
Drink a Shot: for assholeish shenanigans
M. Night Award –
Do a Shot: for crazy plot twists
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
In Thomas Hardy’s epic 19th century story; Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a well-educated, independent young woman from a landed, but poor family in the countryside of Dorset, England. Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a shepherd who owns the land nearby, purchased through loan. When Gabriel meets Bathsheba, he is immediately taken with her, and wastes no time proposing marriage. The suddenness of the proposal is rejected by her outright, though not with prejudice. There is clearly some attraction on both sides…
That evening, Mr. Oak wakes to find that his new shepherding dog broke out and led his entire herd off a cliff to their deaths. The next morning, Bathsheba discovers that she has inherited the estate of her wealthy uncle, who has just passed away. Fate brings Gabriel to Bathsheba’s farm looking for work, and perhaps another chance at winning her hand. As Bathsheba attempts to bring her lands back into a financially supportable status, she is also wooed by two others; the rich landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). As she meets with her various suitors, and finally is compelled to making a decision, the true motives behind each of them is revealed, and she is forced to question her choice.
Danish film director Thomas Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls have created a surprisingly watchable film from source material that too often has been given the stuffy Public Television miniseries treatment. While the direction is by no means too far removed from many other Victorian fiction adaptations, it is bolstered by gorgeous cinematography, taking advantage of every inch of the frame.
The main reason to watch Far from the Madding Crowd is for the performances. Michael Sheen is particularly fascinating as the jilted William Boldwood, who puts on a strong front, trying to make his marriage proposal appear to be a business decision. In subtle ways absent of dialogue specifying as much, Sheen slowly reveals a truth behind Boldwood’s intentions that is genuinely heart-rending. Tom Sturridge is also fascinating to watch as the malevolent Frank Troy, whose self-assuredness and gung-ho attitude conceal a dark side that should have been obvious.
Carey Mulligan’s performance as Bathsheba can be maddening at times, as her character struggles to understand her own decisions, often too long after making them. She sinks into this role completely, making the most of every gut-wrenching scene with an earnest potency that is impossible to ignore.
For all of her character’s attempts to live a strong, independent life, the supposedly educated Bathsheba Everdene makes some pretty terrible romantic choices. Some of these were very reminiscent of Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind, in that I found the way she toys with some of her suitors to be devious and cruel. This is exactly the wrong kind of cheap, soapy writing that is used to substitute for genuine character development.
Unlike Gone with the Wind, though, the film makes clear she regrets these decisions, and instead claims ignorance, in terms of not knowing enough about romance to get it right. This is a barely passable excuse, though the story ultimately pays off in a way that satisfies.
The predictable plot twists are mostly forgivable given the age of the story; as many of the clichés and conventions of Victorian Romance were first formed through novelist Thomas Hardy’s pen.
That said, this is a 21st century movie, and in the filmmaker’s efforts to stay true to the source material, the weaknesses inherent in it should be addressed. Coincidences occur that try believability; such as the disappearance and reappearance of characters at just the right moments, or misunderstandings that are never fully explained or explored.
A genuinely compelling, albeit familiar story, bolstered by spectacular photography and performances.