As in all his novels, the action took place in the hilly downs and cliffs of the beautifully fictionalised Wessex. Bathseba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a good looking and headstrong girl inherits a farm from her uncle which she is determined to manage hands-on in the course of which she encounters three men: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a strong, principled, competent and faithful shepherd, Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) a young, dashing soldier, a womanizer, a rake interested only in perfecting his swordsmanship and gambling and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a reserved, sturdy and dependable middle-aged, well to do owner of another farm adjacent to her own. All three fell in love with her, two truly and one just trying to take advantage of her wealth and young body.
As the film opens we see Everdene riding lying down on the horseback. Her scarf caught by a tree branch was later returned to her by Gabriel Oak who soon lost his last penny when the greater part of 200 of his sheep jumped over the cliff early in the morning because of the unruly antics of a young and inexperienced shepherd dog and had to look for work at a town fair where he met Francis Troy on a recruiting mission for calvarymen and learned from his lover Fanny Robbin (Juno Temple) that her employer was looking for a shepherd. When he arrived he learned to his surprise that it was Everdene, who had in the meantime inherited his uncle's farm, a farm which he had once helped saved from a barn fire. He was hired and discharged his duty with heart and soul and swiftly turned it from a losing into a thriving business.
On the whim of the moment, Everdene sent a Valentine Day's card to Boldwood, a joke which he mistook for a hint and made a marriage proposal which she politely refused. In the meantime, through another accident, she met the dashing Francis Troy with whom she became infatuated and promptly married against the advice of Gabriel Oak who had heard many stories about Troy. When he advised his boss that she would do much better marrying Boldwood rather than Troy, she instantly fired him but was forced to beg him to come back when her sheep got bloated bellies from eating too much clover because her staff told her Oak was the only person who knew how to deal with the problem.
Everdene was to pay dearly for her misjudgment because Troy got her into debt by frittering her hard earned farm income in gambling and discovered through another accident her former farm hand Fanny dead with Troy's baby. When she took her coffin into her estate preparing to give it a decent burial, she found Troy kissing the lips of Fanny's corpse and said with tears in his eyes that Everdene meant nothing to her in the past, now and never can be anything to him in future and that Fanny was the one he truly loved. Immediately thereafter, he left for a swim at the seaside and was washed away by the current and disappeared, leaving behind only his red soldier's uniform on the shore.
Believing him dead, Boldwood renewed his marriage proposal after having made an offer to Oak to help him run his farm in addition to Everdene's, something which Oak accepted only after having got permission from her. This time, Everdene gave a conditional acceptance because she had to wait for another 6 years before she could get a court order to presume Troy's death. He told her he was prepared to wait.
When it was Christmas time, Boldwood threw a huge party in which he invited the entire village. There Boldwood suggested that Oak dance with Everdene. He did so and she was overcome with emotions and went out. To her surprise, she found Troy, in his soldier's uniform in the grounds outside the Boldwood manor. He told her he was saved by a fisherman and returned because he heard rumors that Boldwood would marry her and tried forcibly to take her home. When Boldwood saw her struggling to free herself from Troy's grasps, he shot him with a rifle and was instantly put behind bars.
Next we see Gabriel Oak tendering his resignation letter. Everdene asked him why. He said that both farms were now running well and that she had had the best harvests in years and that it was time for him to go because he felt she no longer needed him and that he would be going to Bristol the following morning to seek his fortune in America. She let him go, saying that she would never stand in his way. But she soon regretted. She rode after him and found him walking alone with his few belongings on his back and told him she found that she could no longer live without him. Oak asked her if he were to ask her to marry her whether she would agree. She said she might consider it but that he never asked her again after he did so many years ago at the time when she had nothing and he still had his farm and was rejected. When the film ends, we see the two of them riding on the same horse, back to her farm, her head on his shoulders.
It was a straightforward story though always full of twists and turns which we learn as the film unfolded, a story told with studied cinematography and in carefully chosen period costume. The acting was done with suitable Victorian restraint. A totally non-taxing film and excellent entertainment for a hot and lazy Sunday afternoon.