Carey Mulligan stars as a headstrong Victorian beauty in this sweeping romantic drama, based on the literary classic by Thomas Hardy. Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, an independent woman who attracts three different suitors: a sheep farmer (Matthias Schoenaerts); a dashing soldier (Tom Sturridge); and a prosperous, older bachelor (Michael Sheen). This timeless story of Bathsheba’s passions explores the nature of relationships, love and resilience.
As with just about anything she's in Carey Mulligan commands every scene. Here she gets to portray Thomas Hardy's female protagonist Bathsheba Everdene from his acclaimed novel first published in 1874. Mulligan expertly inhabits the role of a female landowner trying to navigate the treacherous and sexist world of Victorian England.
What's so intriguing about the story is how much depth it contains. Bathsheba is a headstrong young woman determined to make her way in the world without a husband, something that sets her apart from the rest of the English world. Marriage is not only something people do, it's an expected business transaction that merges businesses, grows farms, and adds wealth to those involved. Bathsheba thinks that she can do without the institution.
When a nearby shepherd named Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) comes calling for her hand in marriage she gently turns him down. Not because the union wouldn't be beneficial, but because that's just the kind of person Bathsheba is. Even so, there's this talent Mulligan has in her acting repertoire that makes you second guess her intentions. She says one thing, but her eyes betray her. It's subtle, but genius. She's a master at it.
After Bathsheba's uncle dies, he leaves her his entire estate, so overnight she goes from being a lowly farmer to one of the biggest landowners in the area. Her turn of fortunes don't come without a price. She's seen as someone inferior to her uncle because of her sex. She's unwavering in trying to earn respect, however.
Like so many of these sweeping epics, the story takes quite a few dramatic turns. Bathsheba finds herself pursued by three suitors. Gabriel pops up again after his luck takes a turn for the worse, causing him to look for work on Bathsheba's new farm; farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) forms an unhealthy obsession for her, but she finds his marriage proposals wanting; finally there's the sleazy Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) who first wins her heart. Of course, he's the one she falls for.
Gabriel pines for her from the field, Boldwood obsesses over her from afar, and Troy swoops in and takes her away from both of them. The dramatic twists and turns aren't over yet, and if you haven't read the book I hesitate to spoil them here.
Director Thomas Vinterberg has brought Hardy's fictional area of Wessex to life. 'Far from the Madding Crowd' is certainly one of the most beautiful movies of 2015, with lush cinematography and expert costume design. He's also been able to translate the feeling and anxiousness of Hardy's story to the big screen.
In this adult-oriented romance we're able to leave the Twilights and '50 Shades of Greys behind. It's a deep rooted passionate film with fully realized characters. Mulligan's performance is one of her best, even when she's just ordering farmhands around. Her outward meekness is a perfect juxtaposition for the raging going on inside. She really is one of the best actresses out there.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Far from the Madding Crowd comes to Blu-ray in a pretty barebones release. It's a single-disc set featuring a 50GB Blu-ray. There is a code included for a UltraViolet Digital Copy of the movie.
With all its richness in cinematography it's a good thing that 'Far from the Madding Crowd's 1080p presentation is just about flawless. As most movies nowadays are shot digitally, the first thing you'll notice about this one is the filmic texture. That's because it was shot on film, giving it that patented cinematic grain that is sorely missing in today's movies.
The one area of complaint, which could have to do with the lighting, or lack thereof, on set is the yellowing of skin in some scenes. One might chalk it up to attempting to film under candlelight and other sources of light that were available during the time period shown in the movie. Though, I'm not quite sure that explains the problem. There are times during low-light scenes where skin appears unnaturally yellow, and that's just how it is.
Out in the countryside things look gorgeous. The green rolling hills are wonderfully reproduced here. Colors are slightly muted as most of the movie takes place surrounded by earth tones. However, there are splashes of color from flowers, or military uniforms, which leap off the screen. Detail is top notch. Facial features are clearly defined, even with the inherent grain. I did notice some slight instances of banding, but nothing too egregious. All in all, 'Far from the Madding Crowd's Blu-ray offers idyllic photographic visuals.
The film comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which does its job. As with most dramas of this nature, the soundscape is talk heavy. Dialogue, therefore, is given priority. It's presented cleanly and clearly up front without any audible snafus.
The rear channels do have quite a few moments to shine, providing lifelike ambient sound for busy farms, bustling city streets, echoing horse hooves, the echoing chambers of a cavernous church, and so on. As horses gallop the hoof beats thunder through the sub-woofer offering up some unexpectedly deep satisfying bass. For a drama 'Far from the Madding Crowd' provides a surprisingly well-rounded audio mix.
It's Mulligan's performance that really pulls the whole movie together. She's the star the rest of the stellar cast is orbiting. With a wonderfully realized picturesque view of the English countryside, coupled with the deep resonating drama that takes place on them 'Far from the Madding Crowd' comes recommended. Especially, with such great audio and visual marks.