I was really jazzed about this movie; Carey Mulligan, such a brilliant actress, is totally my girl and putting her in the lead in a Thomas Hardy adaptation sounded great. Unfortunately, I feel like the movie really fails in a lot of ways. The story is a kind of romantic square (not triangle) as Mulligan’s Bathsheba Everdene is pursued by three different men. First, there’s the stolid, brooding Matthias Schoenaerts, giving off a serious Viggo Mortenson vibe, a pragmatic worker. Then there’s Michael Sheen, excellent as always, as a wealthy, but much older, landowner. And finally, Tom Sturridge, a preening dandy of a soldier, dashing and exciting. The movie has two problems really. The first is Sturridge who just isn’t very good; while watching the film I kept wishing Matthew Goode had been in the part and I saw later online that he had been offered the part but turned it down, which is too bad. When three corners of your square are Mulligan, Sheen & Schoenaerts, that fourth corner needs to be at a very high level or the entire movie feels off balance. Certainly, Sturridge never embodies sexual passion, which is the symbolic role of his character. And then the film just has too much story and not enough time. The script rushes through events and scenes so quickly that nothing has time to develop or feel natural. Toward the end, the ultimate fate of one of the four main characters is relegated to a single shot of the character in new surroundings; this shot certainly lets us know where the character is, but the shot is about fifteen seconds, I’d say, and has to stand in for a huge plot development. The original film version with Julie Christie (which I haven’t seen) is just shy three hours; this one is just shy of two and it shows. Mulligan, Sheen and Schoenarts are all really, really good; they do their best to bring their characters to life and when it works, as in a lovely dinner scene where Mulligan and Sheen sing a duet while Schoenaerts looks on in uncertainty. It’s actors working on a level of finding moments between the lines to convey emotional realities without dialogue and to the degree those three actors can save the movie, they do. But they can only do so much. With Sturridge hobbling that central four-way dynamic and the editing propelling us through the story at a frantic pace, the film just can’t ever really land the way it needs to. There are things to like here, but it shouldn’t be a movie with things to like; it should be a great movie. 2 ½ stars.
tl;dr – Mulligan leads a mostly solid cast with a wonderful lead performance, but the film compresses a long story into a frenetically fast pace and the supporting cast is often not up to Lowell’s standards. 2 ½ stars.