Far From the Madding Crowd ***1/2
First a piece of classic literature written in 1874, “Far from the Madding Crowd,” was English author Thomas Hardy’s first major success. He broke taboos with strong female leads, and romances that went against the norm in British society.
The movie remains somewhat faithful to the novel. As historical romance goes, this one is epic, and very entertaining; “Downton Abbey” meets “Wuthering Heights.”
Victorian England is a tough place for men and women of differing classes to co-exist. Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene must run a farm she inherited and, as a single woman, choose between three suitors; the longsuffering shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is Everdene’s first crush, the devilish and emotionally damaged soldier Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a neighboring farmer 20-plus years Everdene’s senior.
It’s not easy to be a pretty woman in charge of a half a town’s laborers. Mostly dark and moody, “Far From the Madding Crowd,” rushes at points and drags at others, but Mulligan is hypnotic as the heroine, taking center stage with poise and dignity. The film’s legitimate English settings give the tale authenticity and will be a delight to Anglophiles and fans of historical romance.
What do those stars mean?
* Really, really, really bad. Don’t bother.
** Pretty bad, with one or more redeeming scenes.
*** Pretty good, but maybe not great, worth seeing for most
**** Really great, a winning combination of story, casting, and directing
***** The rarest gem, an all-around perfect motion picture