ROMANTIC DRAMA; 1hr 59min
STARRING: Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge
Two's a crowd: Mulligan and Schoenaerts
Bathsheba Everdene is a live one, especially for 1870. As a knowing Mulligan plays her, the heroine of Thomas Hardy’s novel is a steely backbone affixed to a roguish half-smile. “It is my intention,” she tells the yokelish workers at the gone-to-seed farm she inherits from her late uncle, “to astonish you all.” She does just that while capturing the hearts of dead sexy shepherd Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts), noble landowning neighbour William Boldwood (Sheen) and, apparently, of smarmy Sergeant Frank Troy (Sturridge).
And why not? Bathsheba rides, she shoots, she dips sheep with the lads, she’s as bonny as a Dorset sunrise and has “no need for a husband” in an era when women had precious little choice. Ah, but love, like God, moves in mysterious and often calamitous ways. So which man will Bathsheba go for? The right guy, the good guy or the sleazeball with iffy emotional baggage? Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) and screenwriter David Nicholls (One Day) make fluent, handsome work of Hardy’s chewy misery, of which, God knows, there’s more than enough for a calorific blowout. Their discerning treatment feels fresh and the performances mirror that unfussy mood, treading sure-footedly over the most abject depths.