Far from the Madding Crowd

Tonight’s episode of The Dating Game comes to you from 19th-century England, where our bachelorette, one Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), has just come into possession of some land, and some options. Bachelor Number One, a steadfast shepherd (Matthias Schoenaerts), proposed before Bathsheba inherited her uncle’s farm and surpassed his social standing. Number Two is a volatile soldier (Tom Sturridge) whose previous fiancée (Juno Temple) accidentally jilted him by going to the wrong church. Number Three is Bathsheba’s neighbor, a middle-aged fellow farmer (Michael Sheen) who originally wouldn’t give her the time of day but now can’t get her out of his mind. Each has his plusses and minuses, as she is self-empowered to discover. When Thomas Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd was new, most readers heard in its heroine’s first name a Biblical allusion to King David’s adulterous lover; by now, her last name evokes the heroine of The Hunger Games. So it’s a weird cultural moment for a new movie of this book, and director Thomas Vinterberg, working from a script by David Nicholls, might not know quite what to make of it. Well, why not at least a tastefully lush period piece about feminist pushback against societal restrictions? Vinterberg builds his love trapezoid sturdily, with intelligently understated performances holding up well amid requisite reversals of fortune and sometimes far-fetched turns of plot. (A swift editing scheme implies discretion as an organizing principle.) Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen has a keen eye for rugged Dorset landscapes, as costume designer Janet Patterson has for vestiary textures. This may not be the most innovative literary update, but as a new episode of an old game show, it’s a swoon-worthy knockout.