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The movie starts out well. We see a young woman riding a horse across the beautiful countryside. Who doesn't want to be that girl? She lives next door to a hunky sheep farmer, and they become friends. He asks for her hand in marriage (like, what, ten minutes into the movie?), but she declines, saying she's too independent and doesn't want to be a man's property. I can totally respect this, and I like her character very much. Then she inherits her own farm and moves away, but eventually she meets up with the farmer again and he starts working for her. Her farm is doing well, and then her NEXT neighbor falls in love with her. This man is wealthy, middle-aged, and desperate not to spend the rest of his life alone. When he proposes, she tells him she'll think it over (but we all know she's not too keen on the idea). Life continues, and things make sense.
BUT THEN...We get to the part that only a man could write. This young woman meets a good looking solider in a red coat, and within 48 hours she's kissing him in the woods and falling madly in love with him. Until this point, her character was an independent woman who didn't need a man, but NOW that she sees a soldier with a pretty face, suddenly she wants to get married. WHAT?! She barely even knows this man, but since he's a cute smooth-talker, she loses all her senses? I don't think so. Thomas Hardy, you clearly don't know women. Women don't make a 180 degree turn in their personalities like that. Hmpf.
Anyhoo...We learn that the soldier is a complete jerk, still yearning for his first love and just using his wife for her money to enable his gambling problem. He eventually runs into his former love, and learns that she's carrying his love child. He tells her to meet him the next day, but she dies. Eventually all of this implodes, with the soldier telling his wife that she means nothing to him and that this dead woman (and her child) meant everything to him. He leaves and goes to commit suicide by drowning himself in the ocean, which I think was quite noble, since he was a jerk and his wife wanted her independent life back, anyway.
So since he's dead, the middle-aged neighbor comes back, wanting her love again; all the while the farmer continues watching on and still is harboring feelings for her, too. At a party where the neighbor is planning to propose again, the dead husband shows up! EEK! He was rescued from the sea, but he couldn't continue living without some money, so the snake comes back to her and demands that she go home and give him some money. The neighbor can't take this and shoots the soldier dead (much to our relief; he was horrible!). But then this meant that the rich neighbor has to go to jail (sad, since he really is a good man), and our heroine is left without a man again.
But in the end, she realizes that she loves the farmer all along. Throughout the film they never share their true feelings (They never talk! They each give each other many opportunities to confess their love, but they never do!), but when he decides to leave for America, FINALLY she lets him know that she loves him and wants him to stay with her and for them to get married. If only she had accepted his proposal in the very beginning! She would have saved all of us (and herself) the trouble.