Movie reviews: Far From the Madding Crowd, Unfriended, Get Up and Go

Far From the Madding Crowd ****
Unfriended ****
Get Up and Go ***

Opening in Dorset in 1870, Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd (12A) stars Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, the headstrong, independent young woman who turns down farmer Gabriel Oak’s (Matthias Schoenaerts) marriage proposal by informing him that she would ‘hate to become a man’s property’.

 

When their positions are reversed, and Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm, Gabriel comes to work for her, watching from afar while rival suitors William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge) vie for her hand in marriage. Carey Mulligan is mesmerising in the central role, by turns mischievously impish and resolutely determined to live life on her own terms, even if the storyline barely grazes the tragedy of Bathsheba’s proto-feminist stance.

Tom Sturridge is less than convincing in a one-note portrayal of a feckless rake, but Michael Sheen brings depth and poignancy to his middle-aged bachelor pining for affection, while Schoenaerts is superb in a minimalist turn as the laconic, brooding Gabriel.

Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography beautifully evokes the bucolic rural setting, offering sharp contrasts between idyllic landscapes and the filth-and-straw reality of Victorian farming; meanwhile, Vinterberg’s direction emphasises the dramatic reversals of fortune while also allowing time for the more intimate betrayals (the scenes between rivals Gabriel and Boldwood are particularly well done). Hardy’s fans might argue that the screenplay – written by novelist David Nicholls – is more Jane Austen than Thomas Hardy, but it’s a hugely enjoyable period drama nevertheless.

Unfriended (16s) is a clever horror-thriller in which the cinema screen functions throughout as a computer interface. Opening with a horrific video that purports to show the suicide of teenager Laura Barns, the film then segues into a Skype group chat between teens Blaire (Shelley Hennig), Mitch (Moses Storm), Jess (Renee Olstead), Adam (Will Peltz) and Ken (Jacob Wysocki).

Things start to get a little weird when a stranger logs into their group chat, but the weirdness quickly escalates when the stranger begins messaging Blaire, claiming to be Laura Barns, who took her life the year previously after experiencing extreme online bullying.

Written by Nelson Greaves and directed by Leo Gabriadze helming his English-language debut, Unfriended ramps up the tension very quickly – are the teens being trolled, or is there something more supernatural at play? – and then accelerates its pace, as the characters, all of whom have secrets to hide in relation to the bullying of Laura Barns, start to die in bizarre circumstances.

It’s all a little hysterical, and the plausibility of the various twists and turns doesn’t bear too much scrutiny, but Gabriadze and Greaves make very neat use of modes of contemporary communication (the story evolves courtesy of a variety of social media) to create a horror that offers a strong subtext relating to the distancing and socially destructive effect of technology.

Yes, it’s an update of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels for the cyber generation, but it’s also a very effective, and frequently disturbing, revenge fantasy.

Get Up and Go (12A) offers a different kind of fantasy, the idea that you can take control of your own destiny simply by sloughing off your responsibilities and taking off for parts unknown.

On discovering that his girlfriend Sinead (Sarah McCall) is pregnant, the restless Alex (Peter Coonan) decides to up sticks and leave Dublin for London that very day. Aiding and abetting him in his manic scramble for the cash that will fund his self-imposed exile is Coilin (Killian Scott), who is hopelessly in love with Sinead’s sister Lola (Gemma-Leah Devereux), to the extent that he can’t see how perfectly suited he is to Ella (Sara Lloyd-Gregory).

Written and directed by Brendan Grant, Get Up and Go opens with a deliciously irreverent tone, as the feckless Alex dispenses his version of wisdom on life, the universe and – for the most part – women, all the while entirely ignorant of how boorish and pathetically one-dimensional a man he truly is.

Vladimir Trivic’s cinematography offers a brilliantly fresh take on the familiar highways and back alleys of Dublin throughout, but the story itself never really delivers on its promising opening: the characters, while entertainingly prone to blackly comic pronouncements and socially awkward gaffes, are never fully believable, either singly or as a group, and gradually begin to grate.

The exception is Sara Lloyd Gregory, who steals the show playing a vivacious and irrepressibly optimistic young woman who point-blank refuses to allow the other characters to drag her down into the mire of self-delusion and crippling self-doubt.


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