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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12 YEARS A SLAVE REVIEW

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Harrowing, haunting, brutal, if a little overhyped. This is still one for your consideration.

It’s tough to commend the subject matter, but one can applaud it’s execution. Steve McQueen brings to life a visceral telling of an innocent man’s slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a rightly deserved Oscar nominated performance as the mesmerizing Solomon Northup.

12 Years follows Northup in Saratoga, New York, in 1841. It flashes back and forth from a slow burning opening sequence of Northup’s slavery to him being a free family man. The flashbacks reveal quite early that gifted violinist Northup is lured to Washington, D. C. by two entertainers, promising work. But after a night of carousing, Northup wakes up in chains and is sold into a life of slavery.

As the closing credits rolled, I couldn’t believe this account happened. McQueen has never been one to hold back the punches or shy away from taboo subjects such as hunger strikes (Hunger) and sex addiction (Shame). 12 Years makes no exception. Never afraid to keep the camera fixated on the action, lingering, building tension and horror, providing some of the most memorable, if hard hitting, scenes.

Performance wise, this film is exceptional with a plethora of talent and how Ejiofor could still stand out shows how good his performance really was. I was also surprised by Paul Dano’s turn as the conniving slave master. Intentionally going out of his way to aggravate Solomon. He continues to excel ever since Little Miss Sunshine. Appearing in numerous Oscar nominated features (There Will Be Blood and Prisoners). Personally, I felt he deserved a Best Supporting nod.

Benedict Cumberbatch nailed the Southern accent as kind hearted slave trader Ford, a man forced by the times to own slaves but desperately trying to give them the best that he can. Paul Giamatti and Brad Pitt delivered in their surprisingly small roles.

A good portion of the plaudits should be awarded to McQueen regular, Michael Fassbender. He was brilliant as the religious zealot Edwin Epps. He nailed the accent and stole every scene with his menacing presence. Sarah Poulsen was great as the ice cold Mistress Epps. I’ve been a fan of her for some time. Ever since her turn in American Horror Story: Asylum and Coven.

BUT Ejiofor, an underrated actor in my eyes, was finally given the platform and he excelled with aplomb. You really cared for the man and his breakdown in the closing moments was endearing and brilliantly acted.

However, at the same time, 12 Years A Slave is hardly perfect. Personally I couldn’t help but feel that Oscar hype raised too many expectations. McQueen’s greatest strength was also his weakness. The lingering shots, though haunting and engaging; at times were drawn out which heavily slackened the pace and tension of the piece.  

Despite certain scenes delivering uncomfortable viewing, it wasn’t as controversial or as brutal as the hype suggested. For those who have seen Roots, this particular story will seem all too familiar. 

And as the closing minutes drew, Fassbender’s Epps wasn’t actually as demented as he first presented himself. BUT this is still a well acted, brilliantly shot and visceral film that is worth a watch

3.5/5