Review: 'Madding' follows a Victorian love quadrangle

Tom Long
The Detroit News

There is no apparent "madding crowd" in "Far From the Madding Crowd," unless you count all the dudes ogling Carey Mulligan.

In fact, if this movie were set in modern times, it would likely be called "Four-Way." But being as how it's set in Victorian England and based on a respected novel by Thomas Hardy, it retains its more proper original title.

Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, a somewhat free-spirited single woman when she first meets sheepherder Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts). Within minutes, it seems he proposes marriage, though she declines; then tragedy strikes and Gabriel loses everything. He takes off on a dusty road.

Where that dusty road leads, eventually, is to a huge farm estate recently inherited by ... none other than Bathsheba. So Gabriel takes a job running the place, even though, all along, it's clear he's still in love.

Also in love is a wealthy neighbor, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), who, too, asks for Bathsheba's hand. She again declines. Instead she falls for an obvious cad of a soldier, Sgt. Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), and suddenly marries him. Then she realizes he's mainly after her estate and, well, bummer for everybody.

Tragedies and odd turns mount as plucky Bathsheba — she washes sheep with the lowly farmhands! — juggles her scrambled emotions for all three men. Eventually, a final, fatal mishap sends Bathsheba into the arms of her one true love.

Her sudden marriage is a bit jarring and coincidences abound, but for the most part, Danish director Thomas Vinterberg ("The Hunt") delivers this classic in a stately manner with a proto-feminist spin. Mulligan is fetching and sure, as always, but the smoldering Schoenaerts is outright magnetic while consistently low key. Take note, Hollywood.

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'Far from the Madding Crowd'

GRADE: B-

Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence

Running time: 119 minutes