(Thomas Vinterberg, 2015)
Chemistry is so important to on-screen romance. And in this tale of one woman and three men, it is important that she have some chemistry with at least two of them.
And while Cary Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts have an undeniable bucketload of chemistry as the two leads here - Batsheba Everdeene and Gabriel Oak, and yes, like Dickens, Thomas Hardy had a serious case of give-your-characters-apallingly-unsubtle-clues-to-their-personalities-in-their-names-itis - that mysterious quality is conspicuous by its absence in her scenes with Michael Sheen (as Mr Boldword) and Tom Sturridge (as the caddish soldier Frank Troy). And while that works in the movies favour in one sense (we really really want Batsheba and Gabriel to end up together), it absolutely does not in another (there is never really any doubt that Batsheba and Gabriel will end up together).
Still, three of those four actors are fine, and Sturridge is easily hateable as Frank, partly because the character is utterly unsympathetic and partly because he is so terrible in the role; modern and smug and posturing, he fails to communicate the suffering that has made Frank what he is.
Vinterberg's film does a good job of capturing what makes Hardy, well, Hardy. The landscape is a character here; beautiful and terrible and ever-present. Cutaways of nature between scenes suggest the small scale of the human problems on display. Passion broils beneath the surface of everyone, and Mulligan and - especially - Schoenearts do a good job of showing that, with each of their scenes seeming on the brink of something. It always looks fantastic, with a rich palette of browns and deep greens reflecting the earthy passions of Hardy's world in contrast to the more delicate tones of Jane Austen, say. and while novelist David Nicholls' script skirts romcom cliche, it never quite mis-steps, instead finding the simple dramas in Hardy's tale.
All in all it works because it treats the cliches of period romantic drama as if they are not cliches at all, as if they are the best thing ever. And that makes them feel somewhat fresh.