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Far From the Madding Crowd

"The film's classic, pastoral aesthetic recalls the heyday of the Merchant Ivory films." (Associated Press)

Adapting a beloved piece of literature and to fashion a relevant interpretation for modern audiences, there must be a healthy respect and understanding of the author's original intent and a cast and crew capable of creating their own artistic stamp.

Director Thomas Vinterberg's winning, sometimes sexy version of author Thomas Hardy's Victorian-era "Far From the Madding Crowd" does just that. The gorgeously photographed period romance -- which chronicles the triumphs and tribulations of the resoundingly intelligent and contentedly independent Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) -- is adapted with vigor and wit.

Bathsheba is one of classic literature's strongest female characters, an accidental farm owner who is bitten by fate and dogged by society's suffocating views of what a woman can and cannot do. She becomes a beguiling, even vexing, object of affection for three very different men. Mulligan is simply terrific in the part, both believable and entrancing as a 19th-century woman in touch with her rural surroundings yet at odds with her own latent desires.

Mulligan's radiant performance might well anchor "Madding," but others on and behind the screen are also pivotal to the movie's success in navigating Hardy's tale into its rightful harbor.

Chief among them is cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Her vision captures the time, tenor and landscape Hardy so stirringly created. Her images will take your breath away. The actors playing Bathsheba's suitors (Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge) add to the rich landscape.

Both Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls deserve credit for not only retaining the spirit of Hardy's story, but for taking a dense novel with twists and turns aplenty and keeping it just shy of a two-hour running time.

In the end, "Far From the Madding Crowd" is one the most satisfying, finest romantic period dramas to grace screens, big or small, in awhile. - Randy Myers, San Jose Mercury

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