A literary classic returns to the screen

'Far From the Madding Crowd' returns to a theater near you

It's been 141 years since Thomas Hardy's debut novel "Far From the Madding Crowd" was published, and this weekend it returns to movie screens with a new adaptation starring Carey Mulligan.

The book tells the story of Bathsheba Everdene, a spirited 18th century British country girl choosing among three suitors -- a soldier, a shepherd and a gentleman. Everdene is independent-minded, a Victorian-era proto-feminist, and she's navigating conflicting desires.

"I loved the character," Mulligan told the L.A. Times. "What I loved so much was the first thing she does in the book is refuse an offer of marriage. I found that so refreshing. So often so many of these period dramas are about women trying to find men to fix their problems and sort of start their lives."

Mulligan carried a copy of the book with her on set; director Thomas Vinterberg has said she'd read it more than he had.

"In the book, we get such a great piece of source material to go back to," Mulligan told the Guardian in a video interview. "She's so brilliantly detailed; all of her contradictions and flaws are so interestingly written that that's a great thing to be able to work from."

Hardy's novel was well-received in its time; it kicked off a blossoming literary career that included "Tess of the D'Ubervilles" and "Jude the Obscure." It evoked West Country farm life in visceral detail, was packed with high drama and swelled with titillating sexual metaphors (i.e., swordplay in a fern garden). 

The new film opens May 1.

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