My brother hasn’t been to the cinema in four years and sometimes I can understand why. When my Mum and I saw this movie yesterday there was an old guy in the row in front of us who, even after several shushings from the people around him, would not shut the f*** up. Seriously why do people like this go to the movies? If you’re a social caveman with no manners or regard for other people, just stay at home and watch the bloody Netflix and talk to your wife all you want. Because I was seething with irritation for a good half an hour before the guy finally stopped with the running commentary, it took me out of the movie for a while, but luckily it was good enough to pull me back in.
Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba (she pretty much mocks her own name in the opening monologue), a headstrong young woman in the Victorian England, who inherits her uncle’s farm, and has three very different men vying for her hand in marriage. Gabriel Oak, a farmer and something of a strong silent type, proposes to her at the very start, only to be knocked back since Bathsheba prizes her independence too much, even as she admits later that she rather liked him. While she gains wealth, he loses his through an unfortunate accident and ends up working for Bathsheba, their reversed social status now a gulf between them. She also catches the eye of William Boldwood, her fellow farm owner, a lonely older bachelor who feels something awaken in him when Bathsheba impulsively sends him a valentine. Finally, there’s Francis Troy, a dashing soldier who sends Bathsheba’s libido into overdrive and has “bad husband material” stamped on his forehead.
As with many romantic movies of this kind, you suspect you know how it will work out in the very end, but it doesn’t diminish the pleasures of getting there, especially with a story set in the beautiful, stunningly shot English countryside. I swear, even the scenes with the bodies of dead sheep scattered on the beach look like something you could frame and hang on the wall.
I’ve found Carey Mulligan wonderful to watch in pretty much anything, and this movie was no exception; she lights up the screen as strong but flawed Bathsheba. I don’t know if the original novel by Thomas Hardy emphasised it as much, but in the first half especially there’s definitely a strong proto-feminist angle to her character, as she’s determined to make her farm a success in a man’s world. I haven’t seen Matthias Schoenaerts in anything before, but he sure is memorable (and attractive I must say!) as farmer Oak, who is as solid and dependable a presence in Bathsheba’s life as his last name implies. He and Mulligan had good chemistry; there was tension and pull every time their characters interacted, which was refreshing to see after watching so many movie romances where the leads have all the chemistry of wet noodles. Michael Sheen is dependably excellent and moving as Boldwood, whose desire to marry Bathsheba acquires a desperate and somewhat unhealthy edge as the movie progresses. If there’s one weak link in the cast, I thought it was Tom Sturridge as the rakish Francis Troy. To me he was much more believable in the scenes with the woman his character genuinely loves, than as a skilled seducer who awakens the woman in never-been-kissed Bathsheba; for a relationship that’s all about sexual attraction I felt there was precious little heat between them.