Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs
Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novel is set in 1870 Dorset. Carey Mulligan’s resourceful and very independent Bathsheba has three suitors: Matthias Schoenaerts’ Gabriel Oak (a sturdy shepherd, poor, loyal and patently a good chap), Michael Sheen’s Mr Boldwood (a wealthy middle-aged landowner, decent and sad) and Tom Sturridge’s Sergeant Troy (arrogant, swaggering and patently a rotter).
The question is which man will win her?
The John Schlesinger 1967 film with Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Terence Stamp was more faithful to the Hardy original than this version by the Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, which doesn’t feel as Hardyesque. It’s handsome rather than gritty and the drama never fully engages.
Belgian Schoenaerts is miscast as Oak, a prototype Englishman. Sturridge is too juvenile and is not allowed to compete with Stamp’s erotic swordsmanship and is denied a stint in the circus as Dick Turpin. The role is much diminished.
Sheen’s potentially tragic Boldwood is the most affecting performance.
The plot has been tightened too much, so that the script seems like scenes from Hardy’s novel. The viewer has to fill in the gaps with memory of the novel or the 1967 film. Fanny Robin, much cut, gets short shrift.
You wonder why the producers did not choose another Hardy. Why compete with Schlesinger?