Few movies these days have the sort of painterly cinematography that films like Days of Heaven, Babette’s Feast, and Barry Lyndon all have in common. There’s a certain quality to these movies that sucks you in and makes you feel there amongst the rolling hills punctuated by sleeping sheep, or fields thick with fog in the early morning. Thomas Vinterberg’s(The Hunt) Far from the Madding Crowd is no different—it’s an enrapturing, romantic, and utterly gorgeous film that is spearheaded by Carey Mulligan in perhaps her best performance yet that seems like a perfect counterpoint to the current inequality in Hollywood.
Far from the Madding Crowd, based on the Thomas Hardy novel of the same title, is a relatively simple film compared to what else is currently out. Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a fierce, determined, and independent woman in a male-driven society back in England during the 1870s. Throughout the course of the film she is courted by three different men, each of whom seem suitable for her, but her strong will is both terrifying to men but also alluring considering the social constructs of the time.
If you are not completely in love with Carey Mulligan by the end of this film, there is something wrong with you. Her alluring, independent persona begs for you to root for her. Bathsheba is surrounded by a society that wants to have control over her. She is the underdog in everything she does but she does not stand for any nonsense nor any attacks to her name or ability to handle herself. She can manage a farm, sell the grain at the market, and work her hands in the field all the same; she is everything that society does not want her to be–and to them it is far from normal, but to us, it is courageous and bold. Mulligan is simply captivating; her cute little flirtations make it hard for you not to fall in love but then her headstrong personality makes you respect her. There are moments when the camera lingers on her face, she does not say anything yet she still commands such a presence that it is difficult to get past the fact that she absolutely owns her role. Her character is appropriate for the times we live in—she is a strong-willed woman who does not need a man. People will argue with her decisions, but it is clear that we need more women like this in our movies.
Her three suitors, William Boldwood, Gabriel Oak, and Francis Troy (played by Michael Sheen, Matthias Schoenarts, and Tom Sturridge respectively), all come with their own pros and cons. Boldwood is a rich, middle-aged bachelor who could have any woman under the sun but sets his sights on Bathsheba instead. Sheen is great in his performance, offering up a repressed and awkward man who becomes completely obsessed with Bathsheba. His character remains a bit of a mystery as we do not get a lot of backstory on why his character is the way he is. Schoenarts is the driven shepherd who becomes a close friend and confidant to Bathsheba, helping her establish the farm she inherits from her uncle. His chemistry with Mulligan is probably the strongest in the film, and it definitely shows. Sturridge is the one who comes out of nowhere but has one of the biggest effects on Bathsheba. He is menacingly nice, ably seducing Bathsheba with his charm.
The other character in the film that needs mentioning is scenery. The human characters move along this ever-changing landscape of breathtaking vistas and sun-soaked foothills. Charlotte Bruus Christensen captures the scenic openness of the English countryside with warm, golden sunsets and serene tenderness. This is some of the most impressive cinematography I have seen in quite some time, and it is definitely a splendid treat amongst all of the explosions that this season is most famous for.
Far from the Madding Crowd is a sight to behold. Though some of the characters feel underdeveloped, Carey Mulligan, the incredible cinematography, and the beautifully designed costumes and sets all come together to deliver a film that is simple in design but breathtakingly beautiful in delivery. Strong female character’s and sumptuous visuals are hard to come by anymore, let’s hope for more movies like this—Far from the Madding Crowd is one of the best movies of the year.