In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong farm owner Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor.
Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene
Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak
Michael Sheen as William Boldwood
Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Frank Troy
Juno Temple as Fanny Robin
Rowan Hedley as Maryann Money
Chris Gallarus as Billy Smallbury
Connor Webb as Merchant
Penny-Jane Swift as Mrs. Coggan
Rosie Masson as Soberness Miller
Alex Channon as Temperance Miller
Shaun Ward as Farmer
Roderick Swift as Everdene farmer
Don J Whistance as Constable
Jamie Lee-Hill as Laban Tall
The editing is done at a break neck pace, before you have a chance to absorb one scene you are sharply cut to the next as if you were watching a heavily edited version of a longer film or the ‘____:the movie’ edited version of a television series. There are some scenes towards the end, without giving anything away to a story first published in 1874, I felt were given absolutely no time to breathe and were being rushed in order to bring a close to the film. For example where a character is put in a gaol cell which is very artistically done but it is only put in context during the following scene through expository dialogue. This seemed very lazy as the film prior to this was able to follow Chekov’s maxim that you show ‘show, don’t tell’ when developing a narrative even at its hectic pace. At the very least the last act seems all too quick in tying up all the loose ends to the detriment of the pacing otherwise.
The cinematography of the landscape is exceptional but for the most part you will think of this as a film having been made to the standard of the BBC Drama department in its recent productions. There is not one scene that is not beautifully framed and it reminded me of Joe Wright’s 2005 film adaption of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley very often as there is a very similar soft focus and predominantly sepia yet vividly coloured palette throughout with the lighting ensuring night time scenes are sufficiently dark without being incomprehensible. However it should be noted as soon as you are aware BBC Films were involved in the production you will inevitably be comparing it to recent television series such as Sherlock, Poldark, etc. It is of the same high production quality level with a slightly more cinematic style in places but you shouldn’t expect anything extraordinarily different from the standard set by the BBC’s various recent television series.
The costumes are colourful and very good though I would question their historical accuracy as Bathsheba has a leather riding jacket – it may very well be historically accurate but just not something you associate with the period. You probably will not note this when watching it though.
The casting is excellent with special note to Matthias Schoenaerts whose performance as Oaks is intense yet unthreatening in contrast to Tom Sturridge’s more light footed and flighty portrayal of Troy. Anyone familiar with Terence Stamp’s portrayal of Troy in the 1967 adaption will probably feel Sturridge’s portrayal doesn’t hold up but I feel the film maker is making him appeal to contemporary audiences and of course what is appealing differs between generations but I feel both versions are in keeping with the character although apparently the 1967 ‘sword dance’ scene is more erotically charged and in keeping with the novel (the scene is a seduction of Troy symbolically deflowering Bathsheba by thrusting his phallic sword towards her and cutting her hair at its climax) while the modern adaption is more akin to a schoolboy showing off which ironically is another way the scene could be interpreted so it is just a matter of style choice between the adaptions. Michael Sheen is also good but I find he is better when he has more eccentric characters to portray and a reserved role like this, while performed to a high standard, doesn’t make the best use of his skills. Not at all a weak performance but I feel the other men had more to work with in their scenes. Cary Mulligan is serviceable in the role but I never really supported her as she came across overly stiff and stale. The transition from her living with the aunt, getting the farm and later on doesn’t suggest a transition of time or development in the character yet in the dialogue we are told it has definitely passed and she has a different outlook on life. Due to the down turning of her mouth the beauty mark / mole really irritated me as I kept thinking that it looked like some left over crumb of food – not a fair criticism but nonetheless it did. Far from a bad performance but it felt like a young actress being made to portray an older role as her voice is notably deeper than in her other roles and her mannerisms were very stiffly acted rather than natural which didn’t feel in keeping with this character who is not of the societal set but very salt of the earth putting on the airs of society when it is necessary.
The central characters in brief are:
Bathsheba – the stoic proto-feminist heroine. We see this character archetype time and time again in any number of similar novels with a similar narrative framework i.e. A woman who is challenging the gender assigned roles of society yet still finding herself needing to conform to them through an appropriate marriage.
This character heavily reminded me of being in the same mould as Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett. Both have suitors who initially approach them for marriage and who they turn away as they feel they have no need for them but later warm to and marry. In this film the suitors seem to ask her to marry them within the first 10 minutes of meeting her!
“Hello Bathesheba… oh my… you are… the most beautiful, intelligent, self-sufficient woman i have ever met… will you marry me?”
If this was not based on a Thomas Hardy novel but written today it would be no more respected than Twilight and its ilk due to the ‘Mary Sue’ nature of the central character. The later stories have inherited wholesale the exact narrative structure unchanged since it developed centuries ago! Back then it was a struggle for women to be viewed as people in their own right, not the property of the men they marry, but the copied narrative rings falsely today in a contemporary Western society where many of the key conflicts have been addressed, if not made redundant, by societal change via the Suffragette movement’s achievements and Feminism.
Just as the classic monomyth universally depicts a hero going on an adventure, in a decisive crisis wins a victory and then comes home changed or transformed so this narrative adapts it to a woman’s version within the traditional social structure as she comes from simple, but respectable, origins to a position of respectability and society wherein she now has the option of marrying her choice of potential suitors amongst whom we usually find the trifecta of the following:
- The morally, but not socially, prefered choice (Oak/ Mr Darcy),
- The traditional ‘provded for by an older man’ option, in a respectable but unappealing choice (Boldwood/Mr Collins)
- The dashing, sexually attractive, worldly soldier who is dangerous (Troy/ George Wickham)
Gabriel Oak: A former small farm owner who suffers tragedy when he loses his flock of sheep and ends up working for Bathsheba as her shephard. During his service he offers his opinion on her life and althoguh there is colnflict between them he always puts the farm and others ahead of his own desires.
He offered marriage when he was a farm owner and she was with her aunt on a small neighbouring farm. Later on, i.e. he majority of the film, he works as her shepherd and proves himself a good, unselfish man, who gives her his opinion but never forces her hand. A man who is physically and morally strong. Seems to ha ve been simplified from the book. I kept thinking how he no doubt influenced the character of Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
William Boldwood: When Bathsheba inherits her uncles farm he owns the neighbouring one which is far larger and so he is more a landowner who never dirties his hands compared to Oak.
After Bathsheba’s lady persuades her to send him a valentines which has no true intent behind it he offers marriage. She tells him wait. He waits. He later asks again (due to the pacing of the film it doesn’t seem a long time but I am assuming some months or years have passed) and she rebukes him again. A tragic figure ultimately though it would ruin the closing of the story if I told you it. The way Bathsheba treats him does make her morally repugnant and it is never really addressed but instead he is made to seem the ‘bad’ one as he follows societal norms and assumes she would want to marry someone of a similar social standing. There is a scene where Bathsheba and Oak look through his rooms and see he purchased items on the assumption she would agree to his proposial finally as if to suggest he was ‘stakerish’ in nature though it would make sense in the societal norm and in another story being showered which such gifts would be a ‘heartwarming’ scene not a tragic note as it is presented as here.
Sergeant Frank Troy: Young sexy, worldy, experienced soldier who ultimately teaches the female protagonist the ways of the world taking her innocence, yes in both moral and physical ways, but his association with her is restrictive and so he betrays her or uses her in order to fund his worldly ways such as gambling or drinking heavily.
As seen in Pride and Prejudice’s George Wickham and Anna Karenina’s Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (a cavalry officer). She marries him but he still idolises a former lover named Fanny Robin, who through sheer poor luck, did not arrive at the church in time to marry him, so he assumed he had been jilted and thus sought his next lover and was married within 9 months with tragic consequences. The ‘Danish handshake’ was a bit more than earlier adaptions would have had but it seemed fitting due to the scene and character involved.
Review Summary: It is a very cinematic film so definitely go see it there if you can. Although it has a long run time it will pass quickly. I found the shifts from scene to scene far to blunt and so it felt like a collection of scenes rather than a flowing narrative. Go watch the 1967 version for a good film, watch this for a modern adaption but ultimately the book is the best place for the story. Good adaption but far to sharply edited to the point you don’t have time to appreciate scenes or absorb what is gone on before the next event is underway. The music is also very fitting and enjoyable.
TL;DR: Beautiful scenes decorated with something for the ladies in the forms of Matthias Schoenaerts PHWOAR, Tom Sturridge PHWOAR and Michael Sheen PHW- um, well I guess he appeals to ladies of particular tastes…