This new take on the Thomas Hardy classic vividly captures the story's modern themes through complex performances from a sharp cast. Hardy's story is twisty and surprising, a romance that certainly doesn't take the usual route to a happy ending. But even as it travels to some very dark places, we never give up hope that things will turn out right in the end. And the nuanced acting and filmmaking make it a fascinating, involving journey.
The story opens in the 1870s Dorset countryside, where Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) has gone to stay with her aunt. She can't help but notice the hunky farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Shoenaerts) next door, and he notices her too, proposing marriage. But she wants to live an independent life, so she turns him down. Some time later in another place they meet by chance, after she has inherited a farm that he helps save from a fire. She hires him to manage the farm, but he now has a love rival in the form of wealthy older neighbour William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). Then swashbuckling young soldier Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) turns up, catching Bathsheba's eye. With three suitors to choose from, she still refuses to let a man define her. But she also knows that she can't hold out forever.
Yes, these are essentially the three types of man: good, safe and sexy. So Bathsheba's decision won't be easy. Or at least it shouldn't be. The problem here is that Schoenaerts has such a stunning, beefy on screen presence that the choice is a no-brainer (frankly, he's even more beautiful than the women in the film). This actually makes us yell at the screen as we watch Bathsheba give in to the swaggering Sturridge's far more outrageous flirtation. And the soulful Sheen's presence inspires a wave of sympathy. In other words, we get sucked straight into the melodrama, which plays out with Hardy's usual collections of coincidences, as fate seems to conspire to push people one way or another.
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