Forget Katniss Everdeen. It is Bathsheba Everdene (here played by Carey Mulligan), the heroine of this story, who is worthy of literary tribute. In a world (Victorian South East in the 1800s) Bathsheba is independent, rational and intelligent. She strives to achieve her true potential, and refuses to be be limited by matriomony. When the going gets tough (and as it’s written by Thomas Hardy, it really does!) she meets all challenges and soar. Her running a farm, and being unquestioned by the men who work for her, is a truly remarkable thing considering the known constrictions and limitations Victorian women faced.
Not only is she an uncoventional character, but she also makes unconventional decisions. She refuses two marriage proposals to men, men of good character and wealth, as she does not love them and knows that it is not she wants at that present time. Her one submission to an emotional thought leads her to accept her third proposal of marriage – a decision she very quickly regrets. In an understated scene, the post-marital celebration, she witness her new beloved drunk and uninhabited. She doesn’t need to exclaim or cry out ‘What have I done?’ for Mulligan’s expression and gestures reflect the inner turmoil we can only presume she is feeling. Her decision to marry a cocky, handsome sergeant (Tom Sturridge) instead of a solid, loving partner like Gabriel Oak (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) will continue to haunt her and she swiftly learns the error of her momentary superficiality.
The film left me with one overarching question – how is Mr Oak not amongst the pantheon of Romantic heroes? He (or at least Schoenaerts portryal of him) is warm, protective, dedicated and fircely loyal. His unwavering commitment to the woman who turned him down avoids being desperate or questionable. Instead it is admirable and rather desirable. He possesses a calm dignity in the face of her rejection, has a solid moral compass and refuses to mope over what might have been – in short lacking any of the negative qualities of his literary rivals.
It would be impossible not to love either character – just as much as it would be impossible not to fall in love with Dorset whilst watching this film. The cinematography is elegant, colourful and sumptuous. Quite simply lovely. The camera lingers over the countryside just as it lingers over the films cast – but it doesn’t feel tedious or overly superfluous. The light plays across the landscape, celebrating the true centre of the story.
For that reason, along with the enchanting romance, when the end credits started rolling for the end of the film I felt like I had been forcibly (and unwillingly!) ejected back into the real world. A solid and heartwarming period drama which I fully recommend!