Westport News film critic Susan Granger reviews the new movie, "Far From the Madding Crowd:"

Danish director Thomas Vinterberg's genteel adaptation of Thomas Hardy's classic 19th Century novel is beautiful to look at -- filmed in bucolic Dorset, Somerset and Oxfordshire by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen.

But its defiantly independent, free-spirited heroine, Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), emerges as capricious, even by Victorian standards, her innate dignity diminished by selfish ambition and her smirking, impetuous thoughtlessness.

On a small farm in southwest England, 200 miles from London, Bathsheba learns that she's inherited her uncle's vast estate, making this country lass the reluctant recipient of three marriage proposals.

Bathsheba's first is from rugged shepherd Gabriel Oaks (Matthias Schoenaerts), who becomes her moral compass and whose name denotes strength and stability, even when she brusquely rejects him, noting, "I have no need for a husband. I don't want to be some man's property."

Then there's her wealthy, honorable, middle-aged neighbor William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), who offers her financial security with poignant persistence.

Last and least appealing, there's mercurial Sgt. Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a charming cad whom she recklessly marries, a decision she immediately -- and understandably -- regrets, since he loves another.

As Thomas Hardy states: "When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who never had any strength to throw away."

Sturdily scripted by David Nicholls ("One Day") and melodramatically directed by Vinterberg ("The Hunt," "The Celebration"), this unimaginative, abbreviated revision eliminates much of the essential character development and pales in comparison with John Schlesinger's 1967 version, starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp and Peter Finch.

FYI: Bathsheba Everdene preceded Katniss Everdeen by 134 years, although "Hunger Games" author Suzanne Collins has admitted she swiped her protagonist's surname from this Thomas Hardy tale. And Hardy's title comes from Thomas Gray's 1751 poem, referencing a quiet country churchyard, far away from London's chaos.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Far From the Madding Crowd" is a sturdy, somber 7, a sweeping romance, redolent with sheep-dipping, hay-stacking and windswept moors.

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