Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) has inherited a farm from her uncle. Independent and fiercely determined, Bathsheba will do anything it takes to not only keep the farm in working order, but restore it to its former glory.

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But as a woman in Victorian England, Bathsheba is expected to do more than just farm her uncle’s land for the rest of her life: she’s expected to marry. While personally reluctant to wed, Bathsheba proves popular with the opposite sex, attracting three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a soldier; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), the wealthy owner of a neighboring farm.

Based on the classic novel of the same name by Thomas Hardy, 2015’s Far from the Madding Crowd tells the story of Bathsheba’s romances, as well as her enduring devotion to her farming business.

Thomas Hardy’s novel has been adapted several times — as a 1915 silent drama, a 1957 Julie Christie vehicle, a 1998 television film, and the list goes on. I have seen none of these earlier adaptations, nor have I actually read the book, so I can only speak for the 2015 version as a standalone film. I must say, it’s one of my favorite releases of the year so far!

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Stellar performances are given by the entire cast. Carey Mulligan is very easy to root for in the role of Bathsheba, a strong but flawed character. Mulligan does a wonderful job of portraying the multiple sides to her character’s personality, from the headstrong and fearless career woman to the cloudy-brained romantic.

Mulligan has particularly good chemistry with Matthias Schoenaerts, who portrays Farmer Oak in an appropriately swoon-worthy fashion. Tom Sturridge makes his character very easy to hate, which is also appropriate… though the viewer can see that his actions are motivated by heartbreak.

And Michael Sheen, in perhaps the film’s most interesting performance, injects a great amount of emotion into the character of Mr. Boldwood. Boldwood’s obsessive nature and persistence are softened by the way that Sheen brings a sympathetic edge to the character.

In addition to the wonderful performances, Far from the Madding Crowd is beautifully shot. In some ways, it reminded me of a slightly-glossier version of ’70s/’80s-produced period drama, particularly the use of zooms. The photography is very nicely executed.

This is a film that becomes more and more engrossing as it moves along. And having not read the book prior to viewing the film, my jaw was truly dropped by a few of those little plot twists! One small issue is that the viewer doesn’t have a strong sense of how much time is passing between the story’s major events, as they happen in relatively quick succession on-screen.

I loved watching Far From the Madding Crowd and would certainly watch it again. Will this end up on my ‘Best of the Year’ list? Only time will tell, as we’ve still got a little under six months left of 2015. But as of now, its chances are looking very good. The score: 4.5/5