Sunday, June 21, 2015

Far from the Madding Crowd

A good remake of a Hardy classic that still stings

     Plays are revived sometimes because the right star is available.  This happens less frequently with movies, but happily it occurred with the re-make of Far from The Madding Crowd because Carey Mulligan is perfect to play a big, classic part like Bathsheba Everdene.  (The mind reels with what she could do with Portia, Antigone, Hedda Gabler, or Glenda Jackson’s role of Alex in Sunday, Bloody Sunday if anyone ever decided to re-make and update that classic).  When Terence Stamp told Julie Christie in the 1967 John Schlesinger directed version of Madding Crowd that she was the most beautiful woman he’d seen, I believed it because she was (and still is) gorgeous.  When Tom Sturridge says it in this version to Mulligan, we believe it because she radiates intelligence and spirit and because she possesses a regal carriage that looks exactly like that of a John Singer Sargent heroine, which I realize is about twenty-five years later.  She’s also lovely, but she comes across as emboldened and frustrating, whereas Christie came across as tough and bewildering.

The Dorset Countryside
     This version is much shorter than earlier ones, but what may be lost in texture is made up for in clear character motivation.  Thomas Hardy’s great subject was how the natural world influences his characters and how those relationships then play out.  He generally took dozens of pages to describe physical settings that can be summed up in a couple of ten second shots on film.  Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography beautifully captures the Dorset countryside and the different levels of society with a sharp clarity and deep focus.  Claire Simpson’s editing holds the shot to the exact point of interest.  

Mulligan and Schoenaerts
     Thomas Vinterberg, most noted for directing the controversial The Celebration (1998), practically the thesis for the Danish Dogme 95 movement, has had a tough time with finding the same level of success.  In Madding Crowd, he has quietly triumphed.  He still gets in some hand held camera movement as well as natural lighting in a few scenes, but he’s departed from some of the other rigid rules of that group.  His greatest strength is in getting to the point immediately and casting actors who tell us more about their characters through their physical gestures than in what they say.   Screenwriter David Nicholls has assisted Vinterberg in making the political subtext more manifest, namely in asking what a woman wants, and how the social classes interact in Victorian rural England.

The Final Ambiguous Scene
     The best moments in the movie are the first two minutes when we realize exactly who Bathsheba might become by the way in which she rides a horse, while being watched by Gabriel Oak, and the final scene that is far more ambiguous upon reflection than how it may look while playing.  Matthias Schoenaerts, a Belgian actor I haven’t seen before, was more convincing as a quiet mentor/partner as Gabriel than Alan Bates in the earlier version.  His features are asymmetrical in a way that makes him an intriguing camera object.  
Michael Sheen
Michael Sheen excels in the tragic role of Boldwood, who has a far greater emotional investment in Bathsheba than the viewer may initially realize.  Tom Sturridge doesn’t hold a candle to Stamp.  Who could?  Was any British actor ever better looking in his prime?  Part of the problem goes back to the source material, which is why does Bathsheba, so desperate to realize her individuality, get 
Tom Sturridge
taken in by such a jerk?  With Stamp, it made sense because of his looks.  Sturridge has a weird cast to his black eyes; he seems creepy from the very first shot we see of him.  The abbreviation becomes a problem because we don’t get a full sense of how much Troy ruins in Bathsheba’s life. We’re told rather than seeing it as it was in 1967. Hardy got it right by showing a smart woman going after a beautiful bad boy and wearing blinders until it’s too late.  Rowan Hedley is a hoot as Maryann Money and makes every look count as she learns about what a woman can become from Bathsheba.

No comments: