Cinema review by John Campbell
If there is one thing that you can rely on in any story by Thomas Hardy, it is that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. More often than not it’s as a result of freakish coincidence or nature’s penchant for perverse malevolence. But life is like that anyway, isn’t it? This is a fantastic movie – and not least of all for the performance of Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene (the spelling is different, but the heroine of The Hunger Games shares the same surname).
My fear was that Mulligan might not emerge from the shadow of Julie Christie, the iconic actress who starred in John Schlesinger’s 1967 take on the novel, but she is stunning as the prototype feminist who is yet unable to fully liberate herself from the influences and demands of the men in her life.
Watching this in Paris (and trying to stop myself from compulsively reading the French subtitles), I was struck by the surprisingly large turnout – until it occurred to me that Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation is deeply philosophical and ‘earthy’ in the way that appeals so much to the Gallic temperament, and also charged with a smouldering eroticism that has no call for crass R-rated sex. I would struggle, too, to remember the last time I saw a film with so many scenes of ‘page-turning’ impact. From the moment when the shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) so shockingly loses his flock, to when Bathsheba is joined in song by the pining wealthy landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), to when the bounder Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge) indulges in drunken ribaldry on his wedding night, to when – perhaps the most heart-thumping episode of all – Bathsheba rides frantically back with Gabriel to save her dying sheep, Vintergerg’s sense of the emotionally tactile never misses its mark.
Astute as the casting of the male leads is, however, it is all about Bathsheba, and Mulligan, with an extraordinary ability to expose her inner world with the slightest facial expression, takes us as far as we can go in understanding the neverending conflict between fate and stubborn self-determination.
Hardy’s Wessex is gloriously shot by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, as well.