This big-screen adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s first successful novel is gorgeously shot if a tad dull plot-wise, and buoyed by excellent performances from two favorite actors. Carey Mulligan plays the preposterously named Bathsheba Everdene, who despite proclaiming early on that she does not need a husband, manages to find herself in a movie that revolves entirely around the question of which of three men she will wed. Matthias Schoenaerts smolders as Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer and all-around pillar of manly competence, who makes a clumsy, early play for her heart.   These two have chemistry to burn, but this being a Victorian novel, circumstances intervene to frustrate such an obvious match, and Bathsheba is wooed by two more suitors before making (of course) the dumbest choice. What keeps the whole thing from descending into romance cliché are the performances (Michael Sheen shines too as the smitten but boring Mr. Boldwood) and the gorgeous cinematography of 19th century English farm life.


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