HOLLYWOOD has a nasty habit of ruining classic pieces of literature by adapting them into movies. Less often, it will do us a favor by taking dry 19th century novels we maybe wouldn't have delved into and convert them into something accessible for our limited modern attention spans and vocabularies. Lucky for us, Far From the Madding Crowd falls into the latter category. I've never read Thomas Hardy's book (am I right that it's dry?) and I'm glad I didn't bother; the movie is fully satisfying.
If you liked Bridget Jones's Diary but wished it took place in the late 19th century—or if you liked The Notebook but wished Ryan Gosling was less cross-eyed—you'll love Far from the Madding Crowd. Our heroine Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan) shines as the plucky-yet-beautiful object of every dude's attention, including the humble sexpot shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts, who sees your Ryan Gosling and raises you larger muscles, facial symmetry, and an accent), the wealthy William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and the smarmy soldier Francis Troy (Tim Sturridge.) Men can't seem to stop proposing to Bathsheba and offering her pianos, but she digs her independence and being the boss of her own farm and tries to shake them all loose. (Mr. Oak serves as a strong-jawed confidante to Bathsheba as she makes terrible decisions. Poor Mr. Oak. If the term "friend-zoned" existed in 1870, Hardy would've used it.)
While it's hard to get behind a story you know will move forward only as long as it takes for our heroine to find a good husband, Far from the Madding Crowd is still a pleasant enough time: It's got all of the funny and sweet bits we want from our romantic comedies, but with cool hats and gorgeous scenery.
The internet tells me the movie strays from the novel in a handful of ways, and while I have no idea if any of those changes were detrimental to the plot, I can say the film is solid as its own thing. Even better, probably, because it's got Matthias Schoenaerts and his face. Books can't give you that.