The Hunt director Thomas Vinterberg has taken the helm of the latest adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, Far from the Madding Crowd. Starring Carey Mulligan as the fiercely independent farm owner, Bathsheba Everdene, who’s unwittingly intermingled in a peculiar love square with three very different men, this long-winded tale of female empowerment and status peters out in boorish and unflattering fashion.
Bathsheba (Mulligan) is a headstrong woman in a man’s world. Determined to make her own way in life – and equally adamant that she doesn’t need a husband to get by – she is quick to stamp her authority on her late Uncle’s farm (which was left to her in his will), declaring to her new employees: “It is my intention to astonish you all.” Chased by three equally striking men: handsome shepherd, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), accomplished bachelor farm owner, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and military man, Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), Mistress Everdene’s previously unaltered belief system on love and life is put to the test.
A film which begins like a feminists dream as Mulligan’s Bathsheba bats off marriage proposals and condescending scowls from land owning men, it’s a crying shame that it can’t escape the trap of falling into outdated assumptions. The reality of the film is that even the most strong minded of women can’t resist a cheeky smile and a quick compliment from a good-looking stranger, like when our heroine oh so quickly drops her guard in an cheesily idyllic forest rendezvous with the crappy moustache-rocking man-child, Francis. This leaves a rather funny taste in our frowning mouths.
Despite these frustrating contradictions and proceedings limping along in a frustratingly mundane fashion, it feels like a piece of cinema that says a lot (and certainly looks the part), but actually – when you look back over the two hours – accomplishes very little. Does anyone actually care? With the most enthralling aspect of this slow-burner being a shockingly graphic mass sheep death in the film’s early stages and the only lovable feature being Oak’s adorable sheep dog, Old George, not even the best efforts of the the ever-impressive Michael Sheen, shining a little flavour into proceedings as the ever-desperate Master Boldwood, can save this snooze-inducing flick. Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd certainly flatters to deceive as an over-egged, and easily predictable, alternative 19th century love story.