by Madeline Iva
Here’s my blurb for the movie: Determined young heiress can’t appreciate gentle jewel of a man who’s right under her nose until life beats the stuffing out of her.
Which sounds annoying, doesn’t it? But there’s much to appreciate and much to find annoying together in this movie. I bet you’ll love it — I bet you’ll go see it and think I’m being too picky. But let me snark away for a moment.
First of all, this film is definitely NOT a romance—Though our heroine is aspirational, though three men clearly want her, she says she’s not looking for love. And I believed her. Because it would be really annoying, wouldn’t it–if she were looking for love after being soooooo sure she wasn’t? Right. I actually liked her best when she wasn’t dealing with the men.
Beset by suitors she doesn’t want, poor thing, and having stated that SO clearly, the movie does nothing after that but shine a spotlight on her dance with these three suitors as they get knocked off her dance card one by one. It’s one of those period films where perhaps more than once the heroine is forced to smack her own forehead with her fist and say “Oh, I’ve been a terrible fool!” while we in the audience roll our eyes, and silently responding: “Ya think?”
But it’s a feminist story overall. If by feminist stories you mean a story in which the heroine is not held back by anything except her own idiocy. Yes, that’s what the film is saying: for women to progress, eventually when all else is even-steven, they’re going to have to make sure not to be ass-hats, like men are.
Perhaps that is an odd feminist statement. But since the book the movie is based upon was written by a guy, maybe it’s not so surprising? I know that Thomas Hardy (No, not *that* Tom Hardy) cared about the plight of women in his time, so bonus points to him. He cared deeply about the perfect union of souls and equality. But a part of him couldn’t quite see the HEA coming so soon. So first of all, he saddles his heroine with the name Bathsheba (yes that’s her name, and the only thing odder than her name and having no reason for it, is hearing it pronounced with a British accent.) Then he saddles her with the perfect guy right in front of her when she’s young and full of beans and really isn’t ready for the perfect guy just yet.
Meanwhile, I have to say, I don’t blame her for turning down his proposal right off the bat. You see, it’s all the film-maker’s fault. They meet. Next scene: he brings her a lamb. She’s delighted.
Then, as she’s kissing little lamb-y’s head, he proposes.
What? In the audience we’re like HEY! They *just* met not three seconds ago in film time. They haven’t even had a proper conversation yet–and he’s proposing? Did it really go down like that back then? Hmmmm.
Yet looking at Mr. Oat, one still is thinking Carey Mulligan/Bathsheba might have done well to say, “You’re really hot, Mr. Oat. I’m listening. Tell me more,” instead of a flat rejection.
The film keeps on in this insta-proposal vein. I realized that they didn’t cut out parts of the movie–they couldn’t. Instead they try to telescope time. But it’s only so successful. Sure two men we’re seeing together can meet and one talks to the other like they’ve known each other for years. But at the same time, someone in the film is going to have a baby, and hasn’t yet, and so that means that at the MOST these men have known each other for say four months. I tell ya, it’s a little strange.
At any rate–Bathesheba rejects suitor number one. Good for her we think. Then she rejects suitor number two. Okay, he was pretty awesome in his own way too, being Michael Sheen and all, but he’s a little older, so whatever. But as time goes on, we realize that she’s got suitor number one under her nose. He’s not wealthy, but he’s Hawt, gentle, there to support her, there to offer protection if needed, and let her fight her own battles if not. He wants to be–in the truest sense of the word–her partner. Meanwhile–talk about your unconditional love! He doesn’t ask for anything back from her.
So of course she goes for someone else entirely – “Oh! I’ve been *such* a fool!” That’s me, thinking about how I could have seen another film instead.
This is where I wonder if Thomas Hardy wasn’t so enlightened after all. He shows his heroine falling for the oldest trick in the book. Give some know-it-all woman a little flattery, a little smexy from a redcoat, Hardy says, and in her virginial state she’ll be so overwhelmed by his sexual charisma and animal urges she’ll drop to the ground and spread her legs. Hmmmm. But after she tumbles into bed with Mr. Soldier guy, we know what that means. This is 1870, so it means they hafta marry–and quickly.
It has ‘stupid move’ written all over it. We know it, she knows it, everyone knows it.
But the film was SO beautiful–Talk about your visual feast. The landscape! The lamb! The relentless gold-y light. Her “farm”!OMG. It was to die. Okay, it looked more like a rich person’s house with farm options included, but I’d buy that place in a heartbeat if I had some mad money.
Also the costumes were delectable and Carey Mulligan looked swoony in them. I was happy every time she walked away from the camera. The long wasp waist light summer dresses and their rucked up, pleated trains were divine. The best thing this movie had going on, IMO, was showing how democratic we can be with our costume dramas. It wasn’t a film about the rich people, exactly, but the costumes were layered and interestingly textured all the same–right down to the little tips of men’s shirts, slightly wrinkled, and reeking of period detail.
Yet there’s really only one reason to see the movie, ladies, and that reason is Mr. Oat. He was awesome! Played by Matthais Schoenaerts, this Belgian actor–he was the whole reason I didn’t regret the loss of two hours from my life while watching this film. He embodied all those great qualities we want in a man–(gentle, etc, see above) with no alpha bullshit–and yet he never seemed weak or unappealing.
The other excellent acting job was done by Michael Sheen. I’ve talked about him before, HERE. In this movie, he’s just so good. He played the role perfectly, building maximal sympathy and bringing the crazy all together in a nice neat, oscar-worthy way.
As I said, this wasn’t a period film about aristocrats –it was about farmers, some wealthy, some poor, but it still had a luxurious, sensuous feel. It made you want to put on an apron and go roll around in a hay field somewhere. Preferably with a baby lamb. Or Mr. Oat. Or Michael Sheen. Or both together.
On the other hand, if you’ve had enough of summer movies, and you’re looking for the book version of a roll in the hay–there’s still a wee bit of time to enter our Goodreads giveaway here: