It’s OK, but nowhere near as good as the magnificent, criminally underrated 1967 John Schlesinger adaptation.
Essentially that sums up Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of the Hardy classic. His version is solid, but safe. Generally it lacks the vivid, beautiful, menacing and melancholy atmosphere conjured by the masterful Schlesinger take, and quite honestly it is impossible to review his version without making mostly unfavourable comparisons. It isn’t that what Vinterberg does is bad, per se. It’s just that Schlesinger did it so much better.
The plot is faithfully rendered. In 1870s Dorset (200 miles from London, as a patronising caption inaccurately informs us), Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) inherits a farm and has a profound effect on three very different men – landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), army sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) and shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts). Vinterberg romps through the material at quite a pace, ending up with a film that clocks in under two hours long (in contrast to the near three hour Schlesinger epic), but along the way key elements are excised, and the richness of the unhurried Schlesinger take is sacrificed.
Carey Mulligan does well enough in the lead, though I still preferred Julie Christie. Unfortunately Matthias Schoenaerts fails to dispel the memory of Alan Bates, whilst Tom Sturridge seriously lacks the dangerous charisma of Terence Stamp. Only Michael Sheen fully rises to the challenge, matching Peter Finch’s brilliant portrayal of William Boldwood. Elsewhere Juno Temple is wasted as Fanny Robin. Her role reduced to a virtually a cameo, which undermines the drama of her later downward spiral (frankly the make-up doesn’t help either – she still looks too pretty in those scenes).
Famous scenes come and go – Oak’s early misfortunes, Boldwood and Bathsheba singing at the harvest supper, the storm after the wedding feast, and so forth – but whilst all are competently rendered, none of them live up to their 1967 counterparts. Later, certain vital moments (including the “Dick Turpin” sequence) are removed entirely. The most notorious moment in the 1967 version, Troy showing off his swordsmanship to Bathsheba, is rendered in more subdued, conventional manner here, in a forest rather than on eerie slopes of pagan burial mounds. But again, the new scene lacks the singular, demented, overheated, erotic, and rather silly weirdness of the Schlesinger take, and is therefore ends up being unmemorable. I also missed the psychedelic cows, but one can hardly expect Vinterberg to try and recreate that moment.
In the end, Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd will be moderately enjoyed by those who haven’t seen the 1967 version. It isn’t a bad film, but I doubt very much if it will be remembered as a neglected masterpiece the way John Schlesinger’s version is today. Vinterberg’s final shot is conventional but forgettable, whereas the final shot of the Schlesinger version is subtle, haunting, and lingers in the memory, like his film as a whole.