Cheers to Danish director Thomas Vinterberg for blowing the antiquated dust off Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel about a willful heroine who’d rather muck about in sheep dip on a farm she inherited than marry guys who treat her like property. John Schlesinger made a long, lumpy film of the novel in 1967 that even a luminous Julie Christie couldn’t lift from the doldrums.
Vinterberg, working from a tight script by David Nicholls, cuts to the chase. And he has the magnificent Carey Mulligan to play Bathsheba Everdeen, a proto-feminist in the Katniss manner. Sheepherder Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) and gentleman farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) propose to her practically on first sight. She refuses. “I’d like to be a bride at a wedding,” she says, “but without a husband.” Then Bathsheba falls hard for Sgt. Troy (Tom Sturridge), a dashing soldier with a saber he likes to thrust at her face like a swinging dick. Hot stuff for a period film set in the English countryside. Vinterberg may rush the final act, but he gets pitch-perfect performances from Schoenaerts, Sheen and Sturridge and brings out the wild side in Mulligan, who can hold a close-up like nobody’s business. She’s a live wire in a movie that knows how to stir up a classic for the here and now.