Not A Word Of This To Anyone
by ALEX CARNEVALE
Far From The Madding Crowd
dir. Thomas Vinterburg
Carey Mulligan's hair resembles the flailing forelock of a horse. She rides one lying on her back to look at a forest canopy. A man named Gabriel (Matthias Schoenaerts) watches her and masturbates next to his dog, Old George. He is a terrible sheepherder, and all of his sheep commit suicide by jumping off a cliff. Some survive the fall, but he pretends they do not.
Carey Mulligan is not especially turned on by this man. She harbors no more affection for another who seeks her attention, one Mr. William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). Sheen uses the various perspicacity of his forehead to signify the relative levels of saneness embodied by the winsome idiots he usually portrays. He makes unintelligence and unawareness into a personal and civic virtue. He asks Carey to marry him and she laughs.
In contrast to these face-making, opulent waifs, Mulligan eschews her own piquishness for a world-weary, deliberating, entirely predictable heroine. She finally does something surprising about ninety minutes into Far From the Madding Crowd. It is to get married, after just one hot bang, to the unscrupulous Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). Sturridge's clearly homosexual energy is only hinted at — after all, Thomas Hardy's idea of a gay old time is to put Mulligan's suitors in closer proximity to each other than they are to her.
The film's best scene takes place when Sheen happens upon Schoenaerts' Gabriel in what appears to be a sort of manger. He praises the man for saving Carey Mulligan's farm, Weatherby, in what might have been a devastating lightning storm. "You're a good man, Gabriel," he announces, stating, "She's lucky to have you." He simpers at the younger, more virile man and finally cries. "Not a word of this to Miss Everdeen," he peeps after his catharsis. Instead of appearing bewildered by the tycoon's bizarre display of emotion, Gabriel displays the beginnings of an erection.
This makes the part of Bathsheba Everdeen rather dismal to play. Despite this handicap, Mulligan is so much better looking as a brunette, and she has a natural playfulness that suits what would in other hands be a too serious character. Her intimate scenes with Sturridge have all the erotic flavor of a yogurt cup. Sturridge's austere good looks don't suit the role of a malingering husband — he seems incapable of projecting any subtlety at all, which is the only thing that attracts a powerful woman. We can barely believe her when she tells him she has never been kissed. In the end Sturridge is entirely miscast in the part of soldier Frank Troy.
Director Thomas Vinterburg creates a few beautiful sets for Carey to prance around in, including a full sheep bath. Dorset is magnificent country, and sweeping shots of manors attempt to display it in a positive light. Unfortunately they show Hardy's novel for what it is actually is — an empty husk of a story about emotionally unavailable people who happen to be in proximity within a vast and nearly deserted world.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.