First of all, it’s madding and not maddening, though that’s what madding means. The title comes from a Thomas Hardy novel published in 1874. He’s best known for work that criticized the much-stifled society of Victorian England.
Carey Mulligan ( An Education, Inside Llewyn Davis) is Bathsheba Everdene. She inherits a rundown estate from a wealthy relative and hires a former neighbor, Matthias Schoenaerts’ Gabriel Oak to help run the farm. Her land is next to wealthy, successful and single landowner William Boldwood, who has designs on the beautiful Bathsheba.
Her heart pumps madly for Oak, but societal no-nos and her stubbornness prevent their pairing. Later a third man, a jilted sergeant, enters the story.
The Jane Austen-loving art house crowd will find Thomas Vinterberg’s movie gorgeous and packed with authentic sets. The acting — especially that of the charismatic Schoenaerts ( Rust and Bone) — is excellent. But what you end up with is a headstrong alpha woman and three guys, a lot of testosterone and a story with nowhere original to go.