The year is 1870 and Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) spends her days riding across the great hills and valleys of the Dorst countryside. A wealthy land owner named Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), who has 200 sheep on his 100 acres, takes a fancy to Everdene and even asks for her hand in marriage. However, the fiercely independent Everdene does not think she needs a man, or husband, to complicate her life. If she did, it would take someone exceptional to truly reign her in…and Oak is far from extraordinary in her eyes.
The next time the pair cross path their circumstances have vastly changed. A freak accident results in Oak losing many of his sheep and his property. While Everdene, on the other hand, inherits her uncle’s farm and wealth. Despite her fortune, as the new mistress of the estate, Everdene faces several challenges in her new role including dealing with existing staff and being the only female of influence at the market.
Although she agrees to hire Oak to assist with the sheep, Everdene is not above doing her share of the work around the farm. In fact, her strong-minded nature seems to shine in her new surroundings. She is willing to jump in and participate in any task that her staff does regardless of whether it is washing the sheep or bringing in the harvest. Her determination does not go unnoticed though, as Everdene soon finds herself dealing with the advances of two more suitors, the respected William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and British soldier Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge).
Being an adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel, it should come as no surprise that strongest part of the film is the writing. The dialogue between the characters is crisp and frank. The four main characters are fully fleshed out, which adds an extra layer of dimension to the piece, and even the supporting characters are given distinct qualities. The other notable element to the film’s success is in its cinematography. The picturesque landscape brings viewers directly into the region and completely immerses them in the time period.
Carey Mulligan turns in a solid performance as Bathsheba Everdene. She conveys the character’s strength in a way that allows audiences to easily believe that Everdene would be able to rise above the societal trappings of a male dominated world. Matthias Schoenaerts continues a string of strong performances with his work as Mr. Oak. He convincingly displays Oak’s levelheadedness even when the character falls on hard times. The supporting actors are all up to the task as well. Michael Sheen is notable in a smaller role, though he could have done with more screen time, and Juno Temple dives into her meaty role of the hard-lucked Fanny Robbin.
Far from the Madding Crowd is a solid adaptation that delivers in every way. Director Thomas Vinterberg expertly brings both the script and the English countryside vividly to life. Beautifully presented, and featuring sound performances, the film will satisfy audiences regardless of whether or not they are fans of Victorian period pieces.