Tuesday, 5 May 2015
We knew it was going to be a hard act to follow, but we didn't think the plot would be altered to be about people fleeing London to avoid the attentions of a particularly raucous corvidae corvus. But settled in our extraordinarily expensive seats in the local Odeon (shows how often I go) we soon realised that yes, it was another adaption of Thomas Hardy's classic novel set in 1870s Dorset. And of course John Schlesinger's 1967 film is indeed a very hard act to follow. So how did Thomas Vinterberg do? Well, very creditably considering he only had I hour 59 minutes in which to tell this sprawling majestic tale and Schlesinger had the luxury and money to reach 2 hours 50 minutes. Which meant that much of importance had to be left at the side of a bleak Dorset trackway. Poor Fanny Robin hardly had the time to become a Hardy victim of circumstance, but we still booed her beau Sergeant Troy, a first class Victorian villain played up to the sword hilt by Tom Sturridge. Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts abandoned trying to do a convincing Wessex accent (it didn't matter), and Michael Sheen's Boldwood had suitable if wingeing gravitas. But you'll have guessed it's Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene that now has a starring role in my Unmitigated Fantasy of sheep shearing, singing, harvesting and heartbreaking in Victorian Dorset. And I have another heroine in the line-up for Unmitigated Honours, and that's cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christiansen. This film is ravishing to look at, a very worthy companion to Nick Roeg's photography back in 1967.
So, apart from the obvious yawning gaps in the narrative, Boldwood's completely over-the-top 'farmhouse' (Claydon House in Buckinghamshire, oddly) and a farmyard well that looks like it's just been dusted-off from the prop store, this is a superbly watchable film. And as Deborah Ross quite rightly said in her Spectator review 'Crowd Pleaser' (2 May): "...can someone not have another go, even after nearly half a century? And why do they have to be in competition? Can't they co-exist?".
I was 19 when I first saw the original (the second actually, the first being a silent film of 1915), and afterwards I made a point of reading everything I could lay my hands on by Hardy, without any real disappointment except in what happened to Jude's children and Tess. So if any 19 year olds can unglue their smart phones from their faces for just under 2 hours and decide as a result that they'd like to read the book and its companions, then it would all be even more worthwhile. Bring me my heavy woollen coat and gaitered boots....