Not so far from modern sensibilities

Thomas Vinterberg adapts Thomas Hardy and finds modern parallels

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Photo: Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene in “Far From the Madding Crowd”; Rating: PG-13, Grade: A

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) certainly has her wits about her; at least that sounds like something that might have been said of the character between the days when Thomas Hardy conceived her (“Far From the Madding Crowd” was published in 1874) and today. Such a turn of phrase feels, to modern ears, like it was invented expressly for Everdene, especially as portrayed by Mulligan in this adaptation of “Far From the Madding Crowd” from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg who, as a founding member of the Dogme95 collective with Lars von Trier, burst onto the scene with “The Celebration” in 1998. Vinterberg may have advanced past the, well, dogmatic filmmaking strictures of the group, but his affinity for quiet and fiercely independent protagonists (and the performers playing them) hasn’t fallen by the wayside.

Everdene has much in common with Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), the teacher at the center of Vinterberg’s previous film, “The Hunt,” which finds the dedicated teacher at the mercy of a mad and quite bloodthirsty crowd, a tight-knit community that suspects him of being a child molester after the daughter of one of his close friends levels an accusation against him. Lucas, a sensitive soul and good man, understands, from a strictly primal perspective, how the community feels – the desire to protect the girl, to even go to great lengths to mete out their own brand of justice – but he knows, in his heart, that he is innocent, and thus has no choice other than to stand up to them. He is fighting an unspoken communal social order that is out for blood.

While Everdene’s battle is far less dire, in its own way, it too is about bucking an entrenched social order and standing alone. Everdene is an educated woman, uncommon enough for her day and age, but she also dares to see herself existing outside the restrictive social norms. Why settle, she imagines, for a shepherd, even one as handsome and solid as Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), who offers his hand in marriage along with his meager stake in the land he works and his willingness to do whatever it takes to make her happy?

She respectfully declines, and soon after inherits land and an estate that guarantees her the freedom to live the kind of independent life she imagines, far from the obligations to marry for security and status. Everdene blazes ahead, seizing command of the running of the estate, hiring Oak – after he suffers a fall from the precarious sense of stability he once enjoyed – fending off the advances of another potential suitor, in the form of country aristocrat William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a suitable older man seeking to form an alliance of convenience and comfort between them, all before succumbing to the superficial charms of Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a dashing soldier skilled with a rapier but little else.

The narrative goes to great lengths to establish Everdene’s intelligence and good judgment, only to have her throw it all away on what amounts to a dalliance. It is likely that Hardy’s book feels overly plotted and contrived, setting Everdene up as a patsy to her uncontrollable female urges.

What I like about Vinterberg’s film, and in particular Mulligan’s performance is the subtle acknowledgement of real complexity in this character. She is not dominated by whim or whimsy. Mulligan shows us just how difficult it might have been to take such a stand, and Everdene’s conviction. That she falters is no crime or severe flaw in her character; instead, the focus rightly becomes how she rights herself and the situation. Mulligan leaves no room for doubt that Everdene will land on her feet and serve as an example for others intent on bucking the prevailing trends and the mad crowds arrayed against them.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at and visit his blog for additional film reviews at

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T.T. Stern-Enzi
Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at and visit his blog for additional film reviews at You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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