Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Far from the Madding Crowd (Review)

Drawn in by the familiar names (Thomas Vinterberg, Carey Mulligan, Craig Armstrong, Michael Sheen) I approached this 2015 adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd with a degree of enthusiasm. This was my first encounter with the text, which started as a novel by Thomas Hardy and has been adapted for the cinema several times in the past.

Unfortunately the film certainly felt to me like an adaptation. Characters made decisions that had me shaking my head, which would have been perfectly fine if I had been privy to more of their motivations and thought processes. The narrative, as I understand it, is largely about choice, and it seemed strange to me that the viewer is kept at a distance during these turning points. Often this distancing effect comes because of a montage, of great deals of time passing in the story. Perhaps a necessary evil of the novel-to-screen translation? I find the result to be a film which depicts a great story, but does not successfully plant the viewer within it.

What are you guys thinkin' about, hmm?
The cast are brilliant. Carey Mulligan is a brilliant lead, Matthias Schoenaerts gives a very subtle performance, Michael Sheen is the perfect tragic man, and Tom Sturridge plays his part well - assuming his part is to be despised.

The most confidently successful aspect of this film is its cinematography. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen shoots the country like a fantastical place, delivering constantly stunning images of hills and sunsets and magical woods. The soldier's red uniform as set against earthy green landscapes is particularly striking throughout the film, no doubt an intended thematic contrast.

The most beautiful woods.
Mostly gentle but soaring in all the right places, Crag Armstrong's score plays an enormous role in building this world. It features a throat-tightening string melody reminiscent of James Newton Howard's The Village, two parts beauty one part tragedy. Armstrong also uses flutes and harps for soft beats and piano ostinatos to underline the bolder sections. Music plays an important role in heightening the narrative, best demonstrated in the beautiful scene when Mulligan and Sheen sing "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" - my favourite part of the film.

Sheen gets to wear this beard while being depressed and singing songs.
The result is a beautiful film with characters I didn't connect to intimately. And since the narrative hangs on these characters, their choices and their relationships, feeling somewhat distant from them is unfortunate. It may not be a masterpiece like Vinterberg's previous film, The Hunt, but Far from the Madding Crowd is nonetheless a very enjoyable period drama.