Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, a typically feminist Hardy heroine. When her uncle dies, she inherits his farm. Whilst taking on the tough task of running the farm, she has to deal with the romantic entanglements she has with three men: farm hunk Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), pretty soldier boy Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge) and gentleman farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen).
The fashion of having beautiful cinematography and close-ups of worried faces to convey all the acting means that there are parts where it drags. When the characters do break the silence, it’s normally just a mumbled conversation. Whilst this is effective to a point, I wanted to see the characters engage with each other rather than shooting troubled or longing glances at each other.
Dialogue is a bit of a problem; Thomas Hardy is one of the greatest novelists of all time; David Nicholls is not. The lines which are Hardy’s are clear because they’re the only ones with any passion behind them; Nicholls’ dialogue is bland and more suited to a modern romantic drama than a period drama.
The 1967 adaptation and the 1998 TV adaptation have much clearer characterisation with the three men. I enjoyed the fact that Bathsheba is more central in this film as in the other adaptations she is overshadowed by the men. Even though Bathsheba constantly dithers between three men, Mulligan makes her a strong woman whose main priority is the farm and who would rather work hard than be a domesticated wife. In some respects the film whitewashes over Bathsheba’s accidental cruelty; she’s portrayed as impetuous here but many times in the novel her thoughtlessness comes back to haunt her. The amount of dresses and hats Bathsheba has is ridiculous; when she turns up to the market to sell corn in a pink and black checked outfit amongst all the male farmers, it was like something out of Legally Blonde.
As for the men, neither Sturridge nor Schoenaerts are particularly interesting options for Bathsheba. Even with the nice uniform, Troy is far too bland and looks more like a little boy dressed up rather than a devilishly attractive cad. Schoenaerts looks the part but he seems to focus too much on trying not to speak with an accent. Michael Sheen comes off best, although the screenplay doesn’t allow him to show what a tragic figure Boldwood is and how he suddenly changes from a respected farmer and eligible bachelor to a lovesick loser. He does have one of the best scenes in the film, where Bathsheba sings a love song and he joins in, believing she is singing to him.
It’s relatively inoffensive and even as an adaptation it’s not so awful, but if you want an exciting story with plenty of action, check out the 1967 adaptation.