Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd ★★★½

3.5/5.0 = Great

It's a rare sight these days to find a romance that grabs its audience with a sense of unadulterated passion, and it's even less likely that one finds a period piece that doesn't feel dated by today's standards. In simplest terms, Far From The Madding Crowd is a film that basks in its romance. It's traditionalist and arguably naive, but in a blissful sort of way. Through its pristine direction and fantastic performances, Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg's first foray into English-language cinema uses breathtaking cinematography to paint a timeless and sincere portrait of love and commitment, resulting in a rare release for 2010s cinema; a decade that's over-saturated by abrasive comedies, garish action, and handheld indies.

Adapted from the 1874 Thomas Hardy novel of the same name, Carey Mulligan plays a beautiful independent young woman who struggles between the adoration of three men all whilst attempting to run a farm that she recently inherited. Mulligan's performance is beautifully subtle but beaming with a youthful exuberance that feels reminiscent of cinema's best Jane Austen adaptations. But what's truly fantastic is how Mulligan's co-stars all perform with a sense of quiet adoration. In what is perhaps the film's most modern attribute, Far From The Madding Crowd abandons the long monologues on love for subtle glances and short bursts of envy, ecstasy, and despair.

It's a bit of a tired trope, but Far From The Madding Crowd really does read as a classical painting that's come to life. Nothing about Vinterberg's audiovisual approach feels lazy or executed without clear intention. Every image is labored over with a painterly attention to detail, and expertly blocked; the camera capturing the British countryside almost as brilliantly as Kubrick captured England in Barry Lyndon, only that Vinterberg incorporates some of his Dogme 95 leanings into the film's dignified façade. Every shot is timed with precision and as with many of these period pieces, shots are lit to mimic a classical painting. But what's truly outstanding is that these shots aren't just framed and lit beautifully, but that they are controlled with taste, going so far as to having some of the best use of zooms in contemporary cinema.

Although Vinterberg's film does fall a little short of being consistently compelling due to getting carried away in its own aesthetic beauty, it's a film that is ambitious in scope and offers a more nuanced understanding of epic cinema. Far From The Madding Crowd is large and full of love: love for its characters, its setting, its story and its themes. It deeply affecting and understands how to tell its story, but most importantly, it never forgets that it's a film first and foremost. Where most period dramas are best having been left a book or a theatre production, Far From The Madding Crowd is an indisputable example of what it means to make a period romance that was embraces the cinematic medium with full force. It's beautiful, tragic and heartwarming in a wonderfully classical way, and will surely go down as one of the overlooked highlights of the year.

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