The new version of Thomas Hardy's novel, starring Gemma Arterton in the lead role, drew an impressive 5.66m (23.6%) for BBC One in the 9pm hour. It beat a new episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot on ITV1, which averaged 4.98m (23.5%) but ran over a longer period of two hours.
BBC One was ahead earlier in primetime, too. At 7pm, a new episode of Antiques Roadshow interested 6.17m (29.1%), while on ITV1, new Sunday night variety show For One Night Only managed a respectable 3.56m (16.8%).
At 8pm, Casualty triumphed over Heartbeat, with 5.44m (22.2%) versus the latter's 5.19m (21.2%).
BBC Two managed 1.32m (7.6%) for a Dragons' Den repeat in the 6pm hour, then the audience grew to 2.37m (11.2%) for Top Gear at 7pm. At 8pm, the second instalment of travel documentary Charley Boorman: Ireland To Sydney By Any Means had 2.58m (10.5%), comfortably beating Channel 4's Wife Swap, which drew 1.84m (7.5%).
Channel 4 nudged ahead at 9pm, however, drawing 1.88m (8.4%) for Justin Lee Collins' quest to Bring Back... Star Wars over 100 minutes. BBC Two had 1.64m (6.8%) for global warning investigation Earth: The Climate Wars then at 10pm, 1.76m (9.1%) tuned in for Match Of The Day 2.
Five had a decent night with its lineup of action movies. Where Eagles Dare, starring Clint Eastwood, had an average of 1.4m (6.6%) between 6.05pm and 9pm, then De Niro's Ronin brought in 992,000 (5.3%) until 11.35pm.
Sky1 had a slightly disappointing Sunday night performance despite broadcasting a much-publicised one-off special Noel's HQ. The 90-minute live show, which saw Noel Edmonds attempt to "reinvigorate our community spirit", managed 415,000 (2.1%) at 7pm. It was actually slightly down on the slot average of 421,000 (2.3%). Earlier, Hairspray - The School Musical drew 273,000 (1.8%) in the 6pm hour, significantly down on the slot average of 484,000 (3.3%).
BBC Three's screening of the Nicholas Cage action film National Treasure was the day's top multichannel performer, with 782,000 (3.9%) over two hours from 7pm. At 9pm, new comedy Massive launched with 380,000 (1.8%), then at 9.30pm, 341,000 (1.7%) stuck around for episode two. A double-bill of Family Guy had 473,000 (2.6%) and 417,000 (2.7%) from 10pm.
ITV2 pulled in 719,000 (4.7%) with a repeat of Saturday night's The X Factor at 6pm, then spinoff show The Xtra Factor had 520,000 (2.4%) at 8pm. The two shows had additional audiences of 277,000 (1.5%) and 96,000 (0.5%) respectively via ITV2+1. Katie & Peter: The Next Chapter logged 643,000 (3.1%) and 155,000 (1%) at 9pm.
Elsewhere, More4's Sunday afternoon Come Dine With Me marathon hit an impressive peak of 728,000 (4.7%) at 6.15pm.
> Friday Ratings: 'Wire in the Blood' is Friday hit for ITV1
> Saturday Ratings: Encouraging start for 'Strictly'
> Last Sunday's Ratings: 'Soccer Aid' nets 4.5 million