The success or failure of Far from the Madding Crowd depends on whether we like Bathsheba Everdene and care about her story. We do, luckily, so it succeeds, and then some.
Adapted from the 19th century novel by author Thomas Hardy, the movie is about proud, independent Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan). She inherits a large farm and is pursued by three men: a poor shepherd, a dashing soldier, and a rich, older man.
The film is basically about which guy she picks, and how she struggles to make her own decisions in the face of societal expectations. Mulligan's performance isn't flashy or over the top, but she says a lot with a backward glance, a determined stare, or a downcast expression.
It also helps that there are beautiful shots of cliffs, sunsets, and the sea, as well as detail shots of frogs and snails which establish the importance of the natural environment. The soundtrack also helps to carry you through the emotional parts.
Marriage proposals weren't very romantic back then. Most of them are basically, "I'll give you this much land, this many cattle, and a piano." People LOVE pianos. There's also a hilarious display of sword-fighting skills.
Come for Mulligan's excellent performance and the cinematography, stay for the swordplay and pianos.