“A lover without indiscretion is no lover at all. — Thomas Hardy

In Mr. Smith’s English lit class in school, we were forced to read Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd.” The girls loved it — the boys hated it. I don’t remember much of it, because Rosemary De Branco, a perfect Bathsheba, sat directly in front of me.

Then, in 1967, I saw the John Schlesinger version that, with one exception, had a far superior cast. There was Peter Finch, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp and, wait for it, here she comes, Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene. Yes, that Julie Christie, the stuff dreams are made of.

Alan Bates was the first Gabriel Oaks and missed the mark. Here, in the Thomas Vinterberg version, Matthias Schoenaerts actually brings Gabriel to life.

Schoenaerts, a Belgian actor, stunned everyone in Michael Roskam’s “The Drop,” as a cold killer who could kill a puppy without blinking. He only had a few moments on screen, but he got my attention. Vinterberg, not an exciting director, got lucky with Schoenaerts.

Matthias has maybe 50 lines scattered throughout the story, but of course, he IS the story. He is the center from scene one to the finale, and with this whispering strong masculine portrayal, he holds our attention. It was about his character that Thomas Hardy himself said, “That man’s silence is wonderful to listen to. “Whenever he is off screen, we wait for him to come back, because Hardy wrote him like that.


The other two male characters, Michael Sheen as William Boldwood, the really, really nice middle-aged landowner next door, and Tom Sturridge as the malevolent, smarmy charmer Sergeant Francis Troy are perfectly cast. Sturridge is excellent, a snake in Dorset’s garden.

Michael Sheen finally has a chance at filet mignon and serves it with class. He is sadly known best by American television voyeurs for television’s “Masters of Sex.”

And then there is the lovely, very good Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene. Carey has grown leaps and bounds as an actor since her disastrous “Daisy Buchanan” in the dreadful 2013 “Great Gatsby,” a part that seems to defy perfect casting.

Bathsheba is a woman a hundred years ahead of her time, a sexier Elizabeth Warren, taking no lip or nonsense from any man.

Bathsheba turns down proposals right and left because she feels she is too strong, too independent for any man to handle. I believed Christie when she hissed to a big brawler farm hand, “You’re dismissed, leave my farm at once.” She had that early Cate Blanchett look in her eyes. It worked.

Mulligan didn’t have the eye of the tiger. And we must not forget Juno Temple as the classically wronged ingenue as played by Fanny Robin. It’s a small part, but heart breaking.


This is a solid cast, doing solid work, and I’m sure all of Hardy’s rural Victorian melodrama is in place. The film was shot right on Hardy’s territory, the lush grasslands and breathtaking cliffs of Dorset.

Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s camera sweeps each bit of it up and puts it on screen. Her vistas, the cliffs, the coming threatening storms and decaying mansions are astonishing. Craig Armstrong’s music with the bawdy ballads sung fireside by the farm hands warms it all up.

A period piece like this, needs perfect, flawless costuming to keep me locked in, and who else would you go to but four time Oscar nominated Janet Patterson, who seduced us all with “The Piano,” “Peter Pan” and Nicole Kidman’s wardrobe in the 1997 “Portrait of a Lady.”

There are few films today that can capture our attention with swordplay as foreplay, performed by a handsome red coated soldier. It’s nicely done, and it works for Bathsheba. “Madding Crowd,” is visually hypnotic, a bold and sweeping piece of work with every bit of Hardy juice in it.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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