I recommend wearing a loose-fitting shirt to “Far from the Madding Crowd” because the heart throb induced by Matthias Schoenaerts’ Gabriel Oak could rent a tight blouse. At the risk of instant death by lightning strike, dare I proclaim his performance equal to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy?
Gabriel is a shepherd who knows just where to puncture the gaseous gut of a sheep afflicted with clover-induced bloating (he’d be a useful fellow to have around after you’ve overextended yourself at Thanksgiving).
But the film is not all about him – it’s the romantic history of Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), the sharpest grain farmer in 1870s Dorset. In addition to Mr. Oak, her other suitors are the prosperous but rather badgery Mr. Boldwood (Michael Sheen) who tries with Bathsheba the unconventional pickup line, “Don’t shoot me please,” and Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), a redshirt with a rakish mustache and spots of grime on his white sash who can make the most mundane statements quite lascivious: “Meet me at dusk in the hollow in the ferns.”
The besotted gentlemen offer Bathsheba a piano she doesn’t need (she’s purchased her own) and she offers them quick-witted (but never unkind) dismissals.
Director Thomas Vinterberg, a realist from the Dogme school, adapts novelist Thomas Hardy, a realist from the Victorian, with excellent concision. How do you take a 480-page book and turn it into a swift two-hour film? Efficient editing – early on there’s a great cut straight from Gabriel’s dead sheep on the beach to the keys to his forfeited property on a table that’s no longer his.
Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen finds romanticism without melodrama in smooth tracking shots and off-kilter closeups. She captures Bathsheba and Gabriel’s brilliant profiles at dawn and dusk, the outlines of down around their ears. The camera is fluid and not afraid of the chiaroscuro – “Far from the Madding Crowd” is a light film that often treads close to blackness.
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“Far from the Madding Crowd” is showing at the Sebastiani Theatre. Rated PG-13. Running time 1:59. Visit www.sebastianitheatre.com.