By Ken Tucker
Updated October 27, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

At the start of Feast of July (Touchstone, R) a bedraggled Bella Ford (Embeth Davidtz) lies down in the muddy Victorian English countryside and gives bloody birth to a stillborn child. She’s found by Ben Wainwright (Tom Bell), who brings her back to his farm. There, cleaned up to reveal the beautiful young woman she is, Bella is ogled by Wainwright’s three strapping sons, soldier Jedd (James Purefoy), shoemaker Matty (Kenneth Anderson), and farmhand Con (Ben Chaplin). Bella flirts with all three but settles on Con, who asks her to marry him. She agrees, but their life together turns tragic when Con meets up with the bullying bounder who got Bella pregnant (Greg Wise). Based on a novel by the usually more lighthearted H.E. Bates, this Merchant Ivory production is directed by Christopher Menaul (Prime Suspect). Its bright spot is Davidtz, who invests Bella with an intelligence that makes her coquettish manner more emotionally complicated than it might otherwise be. Basically a well-made romance about the difficulty of lasting love, Feast of July is a small pleasure.