Sony Pictures Classics
When one is laid up sick in bed for several days, what does one do? I watch movies. Since this is a blog about comics etc, I though I would do at least one thing that falls into the etc category. So a movie based on a graphic novel. The original story was first serialized in the UK newspaper The Guardian starting in 2005 and is a modern retelling of the Thomas Hardy novel Far From the Madding Crowd. In fact Hardy gets quite a bit of discussion at times in the film.
I have never read the comic (it has been collected into hard and soft back editions) but was drawn to the film by the cast and a clear and freely admitted bias on my part to give movies from the comics field every chance to win me over. I WANTED to like this film. Really. I like Gemma Arterton (Clash of the Titans)playing the title character and am a fan of Roger Allam (known to comic-to-movie fans as Lewis Prothero from the V for Vendetta film). And I have been a huge fan of Tamsin Greig for years. She brings elegance to everything she does on film. In a few years, her name will be mentioned easily alongside Helen Mirren and Judi Dench.
With the cast making me interested, the Director sealed the deal. Stphen Frears (The Queen) is as good as they come. And so, with all these things going for it, I was expecting something at least enjoyable. That was not to be. There are many things to enjoy here, and I will get to those in a bit. The bottom line with this is that I simply didn’t find anything in it to feel good about. Not all films are feel good experiences, nor should they be, (Trainspotting anyone?) but when you go in expecting Rom-Com and get downright depressing, that’s just a bummer for everyone. I have not ready the original Hardy novel for better than 20 years and cannot claim to be a fan or an expert, but it is clear that the things that work in print do not always translate well to film. The source medium dictates in significant ways, the manner that the audience perceives what they are seeing. In print the human mind brings its own sense of closure to fill in the inevitable gaps in a narrative that cannot be expressed verbally or, in the case of a comic, even visually in static images. This is much like 10 people looking at a great work or “ART” and coming away with 10 different experiences. We each bring ourselves to the event and color it with our own palette. Film is not as much a slave to the audience. At least not modern cineplex fare. We as an audience are rarely asked to step outside of our comfort zone and bring anything of ourselves to the experience, rather it is expected that the film will just wash over us and entertain. I think that is the essential gap here. The subtleties of print are different from those of film and are not always compatible. The result here is no characters that are even a little bit likeable save for the Tamsin Greig character, and even she is more an object of pity than real admiration.
OK. Enough of the negative. There are some very nice things here. The look of the film as fantastic. If, after watching this movie, you don’t have a need to spend time in the countryside, then you are broken. Gemma Arterton is very good as an ultimately unlikable and even shallow lead, while the rest of the cast does equally well. There is really nothing wrong with this film, provided you are its target audience. I clearly am not in that group. There is not a bad performance here and the script works well given that the film ultimately just seems mean-spirited, but hides it in pretty things.
I do believe there is an audience out there for this film that failed to see it in the theater. Hopefully the people out there that will enjoy this movie make the effort to search it out on the just released Blu-ray or DVD, as I feel it deserves to reach a greater audience than it has.