FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD REVIEW

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An engaging and brilliantly acted drama.

In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Strurridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a prosperous and mature bachelor.

I’m not normally one for period dramas but somehow this one managed to keep my attention.

I haven’t read the classic novel nor have I seen the 1967 feature with Julie Christie so I can’t make comparisons.

Carey Mulligan was superb as Bathsheba (Such a strange name). Perfectly cast as the strong willed heroine. A different kind of beauty but still a pretty young lady.

A woman desperate not to be another man’s property. Defying type and “social standing” to be her own person.

The opening act may have been slow burning but I was happy to watch the blossoming romance between Gabriel and Bathsheba.

Matthias Schoenarts delivered a very good performance. I know people were sceptical about having a Belgian as the farm hand in something that should have been a quintessentially English affair but I thought he was charismatic and had fantastic chemistry with Mulligan.

By comparison, his performance in A Little Chaos was quite wooden.

As well as dealing with the ever-growing suitors, Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm and is determined to restore the place to its former glories. Her dealings in the markets and with her staff made for good viewing. Resourceful and resilient, but vulnerable and anxious.

Sheen delivered a fine turn as the strange and brooding Mr Boldwood. Hell, we even got a little sing song between him and Mulligan.

I knew Mulligan could sing after her turn in Shame but it was certainly unexpected from the Sheenster.

Tom Sturridge (The Boat That Rocked) played the slick solider Frank Troy well. A slimy charmster if ever there was one.

I couldn’t help but question why Bathsheba would be interested in such a tool.

Troy was certainly enigmatic and a sweet talker but his behaviour was so volatile. Their forest fling was a strange encounter. His OTT sword swinging foreplay was a little comical for me. It killed the brewing tension between them.

BUT I understood that the action was supposed to display a sense of danger and excitement that the other suitors weren’t offering.

Is that all they do in the countryside? Shear sheep and marriage, apparently.

It was obvious that the proposals would happen. But the timing was certainly unexpected. Boldwood’s proposal was too sudden.

Sparked by a Valentine card that Bathsheba had sent as a joke. His sudden infatuation and obsession with her seemed a little disjointed. Ridiculously extravagant in one exchange, then nothing the next.

Yet somehow you still felt sorry for the middle aged extrovert.

The cast couldn’t be faltered. Their performances were flawless and I actually cared what happened to the characters.

Each suitor offering something different for Bathsheba. Security, love and danger. But all to a woman who never promised anything and already expressed that she did not want to be “tamed”.

Every time I felt my interest dipping or the pace lulling, there would be a new development or twist that kept me going. Not that my interest dipped that much, to be honest.

A merciless sheepdog with a flock certainly delivered a unexpected cliffhanger.

Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography was superb. Despite its beautifully shot idyllic backdrop, horror and grief can still strike the countryside.

The only critique I can make about the casting was Juno Temple. She didn’t make as much of an impact as I expected. The role was still important to the story line but anyone could have played her.

The ending may have been a little predictable but I still came out smiling and impressed. Don’t say that often enough.

It was easygoing, engaging and wonderfully acted. One of the better films out there.

Highly recommend.

4/5

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Inside Llewyn Davis Review

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Inside Llewyn Davis (that sounds incredibly rude! Pack it up. Come on, we’re better than that). Well . . . a mixed bag of sorts. Great cast, great performances, good songs but a somewhat slackening pace and a journey that gets incredibly bleak and downbeat with a somewhat flat ending. Not the Coens worst, but certainly not their best.

Looking back at the Coen Brothers’ filmography, I can’t help but feel how their films come off as marmite to me. At their best, we have the Big Lebowski, Fargo, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men (after numerous viewings for a dissertation on contemporary noir, it went from meh to brilliant). At their worst, Burn After Reading and the shambolic Ealing classic remake the Ladykillers. Inside Llewyn Davis is somewhat in the middle of these two categories. The cast cannot be faltered. The pair have found a leading man in Oscar Isaac as Llewyn. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of the chap. I had to IMDb him. Turns out, he played supporting roles in Robin Hood, Sucker Punch and Drive. Well, I’ll keep tabs on him now and expect to see him in more movies after this performance. He provided much depth and brought a likeable if conflicted and flawed protagonist to life.

The things that irritates and always surrounds the Coens films is the needless hype. After the uproar at their omission from most of the “important” categories of the Oscars, I expected much more from this. I believe Isaac should have got a nod for Best Actor. His singing was fantastic as well. We follow struggling folk singer Llewyn Davis as he battles the wintery conditions of the Greenwich village scene as he tries to get his music out there, despite having no money, no home and no coat. The Coens provide their usual checklist light hearted humour and the first hour blazes along quite nicely, with the aid of a great cast of supporting characters, including the likes of the erratic Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake. Hardly need to say much about JT’s singing, after all, it is his profession (He nails it). I was surprised at how good Mulligan was. You could argue that their characters don’t have enough screen time but when they do, they all excel. The humourous episode with Llewyn being stuck with a ginger cat and the numerous attempts to capture it were a nice aside. The songs are memorable and sung well. It turns out most of the folk songs were sung live. If any were mimed, then either the sound editing and dubbing was executed perfectly or Mr Timberlake may too good a mime artist, but I digress. It does help to enjoy or be fan of folk music. Fare Thee Well, Hang Me, Oh Hang Me and the annoyingly catchy Please Mr Kennedy were the stand out ones for me. Please Mr Kennedy may have been a deliberate jab at the stupidity of jingles and catchy songs just to get a hit but it is a good song in itself.

The film is hardly original in it’s telling of one man’s journey trying to get a break. If anything the Coens truly demonstrate perfectly a protagonist’s stage of nadir (the bottom of the barrel) with the road trip from hell. The movie turns and gets incredibly dark and painfully bleak (to be expected from the Coens) with the sinister scene stealing supporting turn of a Coens regular, the legend that is John Goodman as cane-tapping Roland Turner. He growls and grumbles along, milking every minute. (Unfortunately, the poor bloke has put the pounds back on. Some might be saying, did he even lose weight?). We drudge along through this bleak journey as you hope Llewyn get’s that break. He’s not completely painted as the victim. Was he a victim of the times? Or was he afraid to actually get success? Was the rut that he had been put in due to pure bad luck? Or was it down to his own accord? You feel for Llewyn when he has no coat, seeks anybody who can spot a spare couch and tries to warm his icy soaked feet under the cafe table but at the same time, you get angry for him when he gets work that is not to his ideals, he snubs it. He snaps at the only people who are helping him.

However, the end result leaves you somewhat slighted. The journey goes full circle and without spoiling too much, ends unexpectedly and very flat. If anything it was quite disappointing, especially when you’re rooting for this underdog. All in all, not a complete failure. The songs are still stuck in my head, the performances are brilliant and there are more pros than cons but in context of the Oscar categories and best film of the year? Not so much. Another hype bites the dust? Coens do folk, I guess. Get back on the crime movies, guys! 3/5

Currently ranks #54 out of 130