Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
United Kingdom/USA, 2015. Fox Searchlight Pictures, BBC Films, TSG Entertainment, DNA Films. Screenplay by David Nicholls, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy. Cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Produced by Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich. Music by Craig Armstrong. Production Design by Kave Quinn. Costume Design by Janet Patterson. Film Editing by Claire Simpson.
Carey Mulligan is perfectly cast as Thomas Hardy’s modern-minded heroine, a woman who refuses to be held back by marriage and prefers her own run of her property. After rejecting the suit of handsome neighbouring farmer Matthias Schoenaerts, she inherits the estate of a wealthy uncle and becomes owner of a massive farming estate, hiring the now-impoverished Schoenaerts as shepherd and rejecting another proposal from a neighbor (Michael Sheen) who loves both her and the prosperity she could bring their union. She stays on her independent path, however, until the sexy sneer of a handsome soldier (Tom Sturridge) makes her abandon all previous plans and join him in marriage, immediately plundering her estate into his gambling debts and making her miserable when he reveals that he loves another woman (Juno Temple) much more dearly than her. The details of Hardy’s beloved west country are rendered gorgeously by painterly cinematography, probably the most effective recreation of the author’s world since Polanski’s Tess, but uneven casting and a rushed screenplay keep it from really landing. Sturridge’s character is the main threat to the harmony that is displayed, a young man not big enough for the swagger he means to employ, but his performance offers only a kind of handsome insouciance with no actual danger. Mulligan’s attraction to him is never believable (despite a line of dialogue that is meant to explain it without doubt), but most unusual is that his worst actions are only described and never experienced. Serious incidences in the last third make no impression because they are only seen and not reacted to, particularly the destructive habits that Sturridge indulges that almost lead to Mulligan’s ruin, which along with Sheen’s increased misery are rushed through far too quickly. It’s a strangely antiseptic movie, the frequent closeups of Mulligan’s highly charismatic face providing what little complicated energy it has to offer, but oddly bereft of much conflict despite being made by the director of The Celebration and The Hunt, two films that had little else than conflict to offer. Perhaps a gutting of the words on the page and a focus on moody landscapes, like Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, would have been more in line with the impression that director Thomas Vinterberg meant to make, since the novel’s plot seems more a burden to the filmmaker’s efforts and not his support.