Thomas Hardy, there were always badly matched marriage partners, thwarted happiness, and suffering in lovely rural Wessex, (a fictional county in South West England) because Victorian society was that stifling. Hardy (1840-1928) used his rural tales to show the tragic effects that social constraints had on individuals especially regarding marriage and social mobility.
Anna Karenina, life in the sticks was as perverse and misery-making as life in the city. The novel of Bathsheba Everdene and her 3 suitors was disconcerting in the day (1874) -- saturated as it was with modern erotic overtones and misery, leading to Hardy's ironic title. However, this tale, unlike Hardy novels to follow, does offer up a conventional happy ending. If this is your one shot at Hardy, enjoy, but for comparison, see the film of Hardy's Woodlanders (1997) with Rufus Sewell streaming on Netflix.
Thomas Vinterberg (above) emerged as a Danish film director: a handsome "precocious, brilliant brat," wrote Guardian reviewer, Andrew Pulver. His bad boy period followed years of youth spent in a middle-class commune, including several films more preoccupied with form than content -- they flopped. Says Vinterberg, "I found I am not an anarchistic form creator; I'm intuitive and I'm trying to figure out a way to explore human frailty." Subsequently his film The Hunt (2012) with Mads Mikkelsen was Academy-Awards nominated Best Foreign Language Film. Now comes "Madding"(2015), a workmanlike production that checks the director box for 'historical fiction', if a somewhat thin effort regarding Hardy's message. The film ploughs and slices through the novel's plot points without lingering on frailty of character, despite Vinterberg having staked out this territory in his own words and it's being material to the novel. But once you see the film, you will know backwards and forwards "what happens" in Hardy's famous work; have savored its sumptuous landscape; and found the piece enjoyable, whatever the critics say.
John Schlesinger, who directed a 3-hour version of the novel in 1967. Critics faulted Schlesinger for not conveying the paralyzing social constraints of the Victorians and for Julie Christie's Bathsheba played as an ethereal feminine archetype which Hardy's Bathsheba certainly was not; but otherwise Schlesinger is said to have better delivered on the psychological overtones than Vinterberg. Carey Mulligan's Bathsheba (above and below), however, is just right -- a sturdy young modern driven by her own will and sense (often naive) of being able to shape her own destiny -- decisively her own mistress and manager of her employees. She masters the business of her estate, impulsively marries the wrong guy, and then gets a do-over. Not bad, except for the tragedy left in her wake. Mulligan glows; she is very much up to the task of Bathsheba Everdene.
Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone, The Danish Girl, currently on screen in sizzler A Bigger Splash); wealthy neighbor Mr Boldwood played with painful self-abnegation by Michael Sheen, a stage and film actor of ingenious and resourceful talent (Masters of Sex), and Frank Troy, the narcissist, played by Tom Sturridge (On the Road, Effie Gray) as a brash, nasty piece of work for whom you squeeze out half an ounce of sympathy anyway. He has impregnated farm girl, Fanny, (Juno Temple), whose life is ruined, her tragedy threading sorrow through the story.
Hardy used some names intentionally. His Gabriel (not only having the surname 'Oak') means 'God's able bodied man'. Bathsheba, like Bathsheba of the Bible, is an object of desire who unwittingly causes death or disaster. A 'dene' is a deeply wooded gorge; thus 'Bathsheba Everdene' represents sex and destructive power set lushly in nature. And she surely played Helen to Sturridge's Troy.
The Commune, is based on his own childhood experience.