Far from the Madding Crowd

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(2015) ★★½

Sky Movies Box Office: PREMIERE Monday 31 August, 6am, 4pm and 10pm

Dorset 1870. Welcome to the world of another headstrong Miss Everdene. Bathsheba, to be precise. Accustomed to being on her own, too independent in the eyes of others. In her own estimation too, though the little smirk that plays around her lips suggests she’s proud of the fact. No demure sidesaddle riding for her. She’d love to be a bride but wants no husband, not even handsome farmer Gabriel Oak. Soon to suffer a reversal of fortune.

After George the sheepdog runs Oak’s flock over a cliff, Bathsheba inherits a grand house and farm. He’ll be her shepherd, without the dog. George was shot on the spot.

“It is my intention to astonish you all,” she tells the assembled staff at her new home. In those Vanity Fair bonnets and scarves, she could do too. She certainly surprises Oak: “I cannot allow a man to criticise my actions, you shall leave the farm at once.”

The script’s by One Day author David Nicholls, the direction by Dogme-trained Dane Thomas Vinterberg. Everywhere you look, this new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel feels downgraded from the 60s version: Carrie Mulligan’s insipid Bathsheba trailing in Julie Christie’s imperious stead, the big Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts for British yeoman Alan Bates, Tom Sturridge’s toy soldier for Terence Stamp’s Sergeant Troy, and Michael Sheen for Peter Finch in the kindly landowner role.

Sheen doesn’t do the voice but he wears the beard well. It’s Anthony Hopkins he seems to be impersonating, especially during his pre-Christmas pitch to Bathsheba.

Three men find her beautiful yet she’s never been kissed (don’t panic, we’re only midway though the story and it won’t be long coming).

Loyal Oak knows his place but Bathsheba can’t see him for the trees. She knows she’s made a mistake marrying Troy during the wedding day celebrations. They both have. There’s a storm brewing for sure and she joins Gabriel for a roll in the haystack: “I’ve been a fool.” You can’t help feeling sorry for the sheep. For the people, not so much. Except poor Fanny (Juno Temple), perhaps. She went to All Souls instead of All Saints.

The 1967 Far From the Madding Crowd was far from John Schlesinger’s best directed picture. It plodded on far too long, but Nic Roeg shot it so of course it was pretty. Which was part of the problem even then. There’s nothing pretty about Hardy country.

Here, Craig Armstrong’s near-constant music opts for the dull refinement of an Alexandre Desplat in ‘prestige’ mode when it could’ve benefitted more from the deft touch and harmony of a Rachel Portman.

The only film that’s come close to capturing Hardy’s true spirit is Michael Winterbottom’s Jude. Obscure or not, it’s the better book. A devastating tragedy that rings true, whereas Madding remains at heart a fairly maddening romantic melodrama. In Victorian costumes. No wonder BBC Films were so keen to get into bed with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Searchlight.

Certificate: 12

Duration: 119min

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Sky Movies Box Office Friday, 4 September at 10:00PM
Sky Movies Box Office Saturday, 5 September at 12:15PM
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