By some quirk of fate, I have never read the book by Thomas Hardy, nor have I seen either of the previous movie versions of this story (the original 1967 movie with Julie Christie and Alan Bates; the 1998 PBS version with English subtitles starring Paloma Baeza and Nathaniel Parker); I went into it blind, with no expectations. So there are no comparisons here for me. This was what one might call an ‘epic’ movie due to its sweeping Wessex landscapes, some of desolate cliffs at night, others of acres and acres of farmland, and workers threshing the wheat. The characters, though, are what make this story what it is. Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan), the independent, courageous heir to a vast farm employing a few dozen workers at least; Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), the reticent, competent shepherd who suffers a devastating setback after his proposal of marriage to Bathsheba, but always seems to end up in some kind of a protective/ overseer relationship with Bathsheba; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), the hesitant neighbour and suitor who accepts rejection yet continues to hope, and eventually proves his faithful devotion; and Sgt. Troy (Tom Sturridge), the bold ladies’ man who dares to sweep Bathsheba away with romantic adventure, and then steps in to replace her as master of the farm, for which he cares nothing, and foolishly gambles away her bread and butter.
This plot never lacks for adventure — there are disasters, near-disasters, and serious setbacks — but always, the quiet shepherd is watching and respectful, diligent and competent, waiting patiently with Bathsheba’s best interests at heart. (I read a review where the choice of Matthias Schoenaerts for the part of Gabriel Oak. He was perfect! Apparently, he’s from Belgium and has an accent. Well, perhaps if you know he’s from Belgium, you will detect an accent. I never noticed it.) Bathsheba is continually faced with difficult choices, and each time you think you know what she’s going to do, something unexpected turns the events around.
I think, whether you’ve read the book or seen other versions of this story, you will enjoy this movie. I’m definitely adding the book to my to-read list, as no matter if there are changes made, I’m certain I will enjoy the writing of Thomas Hardy, and I think it’s always interesting to see the changes and let one format augment the other. Certainly, this dramatic rendering lacked nothing in setting, costume, character, or filming. From almost the beginning, I was gasping at events that sent me reeling, but it would spoil it if I told you the details. Go see this movie — you won’t be disappointed! * * * * *