Films derived from source materials written by men, but centered on a woman are often of great interest to me – because the perceptions men have about women, the way they assess and understand how women work normally are phenomenological rather than empathic. I have never read a book by a man that really captures the internal struggles of women the way that a woman can write that sense.
Indeed, I don’t believe men even experience that struggle the same way that women do. The intense internal tensions that women experience, holding many ideas and desires that conflict simultaneously is something that is typical if not normal, but for men, I don’t think that it is true…
And so, reading these or watching these, it’s always illuminating.
Moreover, when men write such books, there’s a sense of what this woman represents to the writer. And the writer’s proxy typically the main character male, in this case, it is Gabriel Oak.
So, let’s break down the characters:
Her namesake is the woman whom with David committed adultery. She does not know the meaning of her name, nor why she was given this name – but I do not believe the author would have picked this name without reason.
In the book of Kings, this is a woman of surpassing beauty and of implied willfulness. Bathing on a roof in full sight of the King of Israel sets off David’s desire for her – and they sleep together; and when she is with child, the King tries to cover it up by having her husband, an officer in his armies, return home for his wife and have him sleep with her. Yet, that man refuses to return, desiring to faithfully serve at the front lines.
So instead, David arranges for his abandonment in battle, and thus orchestrates his death. The cost of this betrayal is huge, and beyond the pale of this review, but recalls a very complex emotional background for the name Bathsheba. A woman who is at the heart of a sad betrayal, and the object of great love and desire.
She is, in this version, young, smart, independent and willful. Becomes an heiress, and then a confident landowner.
He is a neighbor to Bathsheba when she was poor – an enterprising shepherd who loses it all due to the actions of his young sheepdog. He had 200 sheep and loaned farmland, and was planning on paying off his loans. Had offered to marry Bathsheba when she had naught, but then, after disaster, ends up in her employ.
In the midst of all manners of the other suitors, he oft hold his tongue, though maintains a certain ardour for her.
He represents steadfastness. Though he boasted at the outset of his means, ultimately the author paints Oak in terms of humility and solidity.
The movie leaves out how Bathsheba saved his life earlier in the book.
The next neighbor is a wealthy and successful farmer in his forties who becomes smitten by Bathsheba after she writes him a love letter. In the book, it is a letter that says, “marry me?” while in this movie, but a fanciful love poem of surpassing simplicity beginning with the age old, “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue…”
Somehow, he becomes charmed by her resourcefulness and hands on approach.
He persistently seeks her hand in marriage, even after she marries another and later becomes a “widow”, offering her safe harbor and love – even if she cannot offer him genuine passion.
A particularly poignant moment is when they sing an old English folk song about a young maiden who is jilted and has her thyme/time stolen. They sing beautifully with very natural harmonies, in a way that highlights their artistic resonances (he is a tragic lonely man) but set against what amounts to a warning to women falling in love with the wrong person – which I expect is her warning to him.
One major element about Baldwood is his fixation on whether Bathsheba had broken a promise to him. How he could not blame her for his feelings that remained unrequited. He sought to protect her reputation even when they became the subject of nasty rumors of her “standing him up” and marrying our third male lead.
Troy is introduced to us (in the movie) as the dashing young sergeant who is about to marry a fetching young Fanny Robbin, who originally worked at the farm that Bathsheba Everdene was about to inherit. Troy is stood up at his wedding as Fanny went to the wrong chapel (life before GPS and cellphones), and stalks off enraged and humiliated.
When he reappears in the story, he immediately tells Bathsheba that she is beautiful – and seduces her in the most usual way of gallants – with displays of recklessness and power, taking from her a kiss that sets her heart, and mind, racing.
Oak warns her that this man has no conscience, and that he will ruin her. She dismisses Oak in anger, only to be forced to ask for his help with an illness with the sheep (not going to detail), and yet continues to become closer to Troy… in a series of secret tete-a-tetes, that are so well designed to allay inhibitions.
Married, Troy quickly displays his boorish alcohol dependencies, hubris in treating the workers, and overconfidence – “there will be no rain, it is our wedding day – my wife forbids it!” even when Oak predicts a massive storm… leading to a somewhat contrived scene where Oak and Bathsheba work together to save the harvest when everyone else is drinking inside the farm.
Troy begins accruing massive gambling debts – and the later encounters Fanny again, learning that she is now with child. He attempts to secure money (20 £s) for Fanny from Bathsheba, who asks – “what is this money for?” To which he can give no satisfactory answer.
Fanny dies never making it to the bridge where Troy had arranged for their meeting – another missed rendezvous. Instead, her body is brought back to the farm, where Bathsheba pieces together the story.
When Troy returns, they argue, and he tells her that Bathsheba means nothing to him.
The next day, he then swims out to the ocean and ostensibly drowns.
With new debts unpaid, Bathsheba confronts the possible loss of her farm, and Baldwood offers to marry her and cover the debts. He meets with Oak, offering him employment, and in some measure of grace, tells Oak that he is appreciative of Oak’s loyalty, and steadfastness… and that he knows that Oak still loves Bathsheba.
At the dance/party at which Baldwood expects Bathsheba to accept his proposal, Baldwood asks them to dance. As they dance, Oak and Bathsheba speak – and she asks him, what should I do?
He replies – do the right thing.
She flees from the dance, leaving them bewildered. She encounters Troy who realizes that his apparent death leaves him still destitute, thus he returns demanding that she sell the farm and share with him the proceeds.
His forceful swaggering is brought to an end when Baldwood fires a rifle, putting the beast down…
A scene that is very reminiscent of when Oak shoots his young sheepdog (young George) that destroyed his fortune. It is an act of grief and pain.
Baldwood then goes to prison, but not executed. Oak tells Bathseba that now the farm is safe, he can move to America and that he would be off the next morning.
When the next morning breaks, and he is gone, she watches Old George (the older sheepdog) and anxiously ponders what to do. She finally rides off (only one scene does she ride side saddle – at the beginning) and catches up with him.
She tells him not to go (I forbid it!).
They wrangle about why to stay – and he reveals that he would stay if there were a chance that they could marry (he has no airs now, their positions and status so different). She reveals that she doesn’t know what she would say, but that the only way to find out is if he were to ask again.
In contrast to his reserved and tepid and tenuous prior advances, he pulls forward and they kiss.
Everything else is implied.
The three men represent, in some way, a very Freudian version of desire –
Troy is pure, impulsive Id. Desire unchecked, passion unblunted, and all the crazy consequence. Baldwood is older, safe, passionless – it is Superego. Oak, is the balance, passion and safety, and sometimes censure – it is only Oak that ever rebukes her.
Whether the modern feminist appreciates rebuke from a man, (and that’s so not Disney) a real relationship requires rebuke – in both directions. No man or woman is perfect, and the dialogue between lovers must have words like these. “This is beneath you, Miss Averdene.”
At the heart of any female-centered romantic tale must be choice; and these were hers. Evolving from “I don’t need a husband,” to realizing that perhaps it isn’t so bad… She also comes to realize that the man that has been most steadfast (though often silent) has been Oak. She was much more attracted to Status (her discussion of station, her discussions with her assistant re: Baldwood, as well her attraction to Troy and his breeding and prowess) at the outset.
When Oak was on the road, “You have to fight your own battles… and win them (by yourself).” I don’t know if these words appear in the book, it seems a bit more modern, but I understand the sentiment. I suspect the author might have meant the scene in that Oak was absolving himself from long term servanthood from this woman who was not willing to be his wife.
For him to continue to be her superintendent was to relegate himself to a very painful place indeed. Better to seek his own place in life, and let her find her own way with or without some other man.
It is in Gabriel where I think we find the Author’s voice best. It is an homage to the quiet competent men that are neither rich nor flashy, but rather quietly, somewhat behind the scenes, people who get things done. Many people fixate and the flash and bang, but rarely does much work get done by those in the limelight. It is Gabriel that ultimately runs both farms.
Gabriel is the man who is often overlooked. I hazard the author felt so once.
The authors’ message to women also includes a rebuke – do not play with hearts. There are 2 men tortured here, and 1 man doing the torturing. In some ways, had she not whimsically played Baldwood, perhaps she might have avoided Troy?
That is the karmic relationship David encountered post Bathsheba.
I Samuel 12:1-25
12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for[a] the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
15 After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth[b] on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.
18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”
19 David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.
“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”
20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.
21 His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”
22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; 25 and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.[c]
1) Nathan uses the Shepherd as his background for the story/parable
2) David’s sin with Bathsheba is accounted as David’s.
3) David declares that the man who stole the sheep should pay four fold
4) David learns that he is the man who stole – and that he would pay
a. The bloodbath in his family shows up in the later passages.
5) David sinned in secret – it is often that temptation works better in “secret” lots of reseach in this area. Secret pleasures shared builds intimacy… sometimes of a destructive sort…
6) When the child dies, David stops praying/fasting and mourning. He moves on. There’s nothing left to do (grief can paralyze)
7) After all this, God still blessed David and Bathsheba – with Solomon.
I enjoyed thinking about the meanings and metaphors of this film. There are cautionary tones to all of the characters – something that is so sorely missing in modern storytelling – everyone’s a good guy, nothing to be morally learned.
There are warnings and lessons here… the filmcraft is fairly good, but what really stokes my thoughts are the questions about humanity, character and responsibility that really drive the tale.