Fox Searchlight’s sweeping adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel “Far From the Madding Crowd” received thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd at the film’s New York premiere on Monday evening at the Paris Theater. Guests walked out of the screening buzzing about Danish director Thomas Vinterberg‘s adaptation of the classic romance that portrays one of the first great feminist characters in English literature.
Newly minted Tony nominee Carey Mulligan stars as Bathsheba Everdene, a strong-willed 19th century Englishwoman who inherits a farm and defies tradition by running it herself, without a husband, but is wooed by three men vying for her hand in marriage. Belgium actor Matthias Schoenaerts (“Rust and Bone”) portrays a handsome sheep farmer who is captivated by her independence. Tom Sturridge plays a passionate and reckless sergeant, and Michael Sheen is a wealthy and kind man who simply wants to be loved.
“I was immediately drawn to Bathsheba. The fact that she turns down a proposal of marriage in the first 20 minutes in a Victorian classic novel is so rare,” Mulligan told Variety on the red carpet. “The women in these films are usually getting out of bed in the morning and thinking, ‘Where am I going to find my husband?’ She has the exact opposite instinct, and I loved that about her. I also admired her remarkable resilience. A lot of things happen in her life, there are lots of twists and turns and things go terribly wrong, but she is always able to pick herself up and keep going. I don’t have the strength as she. I wish I did.”
Playing the headstrong Bathsheba is the multifaceted role that Mulligan relishes. In the film she rides horses, shoots a gun and shows off her musical talent. She sings a traditional folk song called “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” which is also hauntingly featured in the film’s trailer.
“I usually am fighting against singing scenes in a movie and trying to get it taken out of the film, but for this one, I wanted to do it because I got to sing with Michael Sheen. He has an amazing voice,” said Mulligan, who has also sung on camera in 2011’s “Shame” and 2013’s “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
Sheen, who makes his onscreen singing debut, called the experience “fun” and “challenging.”
“I just do a little bit of a low rumbling in the background,” he said modestly. “The woman who coached us is an amazing folk singer and her father was Ewan MacColl, who was one of the greatest, British singers of all time, so we were with folk royalty.”
Although Sheen said he has no plans to sing in future films, he does enjoy belting out a few tunes. “I do love singing. I come from Wales, where it’s a land of song,” he said. “We are all singers.”
Sheen’s girlfriend Sarah Silverman came out to the premiere to support him and wishes that he would croon more often. “I wish he would sing more when we are together,” said Silverman. “He has such a beautiful voice. I cry every time I see that scene of him singing. The entire movie is just beautiful.”
The movie was shot in 53 days on location in Dorset, England, the home of Hardy and where the book was written. “I wanted to breathe the air of the writer,” said Vinterberg, who did not watch the 1967 John Schlesinger version starring Julie Christie for inspiration. “I was humbled by his descriptions of landscapes and characters. I had to go there and show it truthfully for the bigscreen. But there were many problems making a movie in the countryside, especially with the weather and the sheep. There was lots of trouble with the sheep!”
To work with the woolly coated animals, Schoenaerts went through a farming bootcamp to accurately handle a flock of sheep.
“Going through a bootcamp brought out the kid in me. I really did shave the sheep, wash them and debloat them,” he said proudly. “I also know how to sharpen knives to make a fire. Now I can do a lot of stuff I never thought I would learn.”
(Pictured: Michael Sheen, Carey Mulligan, Juno Temple and Matthias Schoenaerts at the New York premiere of “Far From the Madding Crowd”)