Overview: The independently minded Bathsheba Everdene, heiress to her late uncle’s agrarian estate and farm in rural England, pursues three disparate lovers in an adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel. BBC Films; 2015; Rated PG-13; 119 minutes.
She Loves Me: In director Thomas Vinterberg’s cinematic retelling of Thomas Hardy’s English novel of the late nineteenth century, Victorian mores and social values are largely cast aside in the service of what is an unequivocal romantic comedy. In Vinterberg’s film, Hardy’s narrative is, more or less, reduced to a nearly two hour-long soap opera. Bathsheba Everdene, played with impeccable melancholy by Carey Mulligan, capriciously woos her three suitors with seeming abandon. While the film’s drama is thinly applied at best, the performances given by the production’s three lead actors serve to breathe life into what might otherwise become a dull affair; Matthias Schoenarts is effectively dreamy as the shepherd Gabriel Oak, Michael Sheen shines in a state of perpetual, existential anguish as the jilted, eligible bachelor William Boldwood, and Tom Sturridge sneers with relish as the reckless Sergeant Francis Troy.
She Loves Me Not: Over the course of the film’s two hour run time, Mulligan does her best to lend some gravitas to a drama Vinterberg loses sight of. In the service of expediency and thematic clarity, the plot of the film whips by in a flurry of rigorously constructed, melodramatic set pieces, and stunningly composed shots of decided photographic brilliance, lending the film much of its romantic dreaminess and tender realism respectively. The film looks self-assured and aesthetically composed, and the performances lent by its cast serve to bring some tension to the feminist overtones that make up for much of the script’s narrative discourse. However, in Vinterberg’s overt capitulations to the basic plot structure of the romantic comedy, the film becomes plodding at times. The central intrigue of Bathesheba Everdene becomes overcast by a lack of cinematic urgency. In short, Vinterberg is a visually capable director who often loses track of his film’s dramatic content amid the flurry of his picturesque cinematography.
She Loves Me: What is most notable in this period piece comes in its sense of female empowerment lent by its central hero. As Bathsheba Everdene, Carey Mulligan serves as a strong female protagonist, her education and financial independence exemplary, her story one of equality and synergy across the dividing line of gender. Sexism and feminist stereotypes are superseded in a film led and propelled by its cast of female characters. Bathsheba is reliant upon her own will power to get the job done, even when she is otherwise summarily and preemptively dismissed by the extant patriarchy of the time. Instead of extrapolating from the popular romantic image of a woman plucking petals from a budding flower, Vinterberg’s film imagines the male subject of affection performing the same activity, discordantly chanting, “She loves me, she loves me not.”
Overall: In its reversal of gender roles and subtle feminist overtones, Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd succeeds. Even if the film’s plot is far too obvious, Carey Mulligan’s performance is one worth watching.