Stephen Frears's adaptation of the Posy Simmonds cartoon inspired by Far From the Madding Crowd is pleasantly engaging but undemanding.
Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Tamsin Greig, Roger Allam, Dominic Cooper
Tamara Drewe is Stephen Frears’s film adaptation of a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, itself inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, and follows a year in the lives of the inhabitants of Ewedown, a sleepy village in the English county of Dorset. There amid the rolling hills and winding country lanes, tensions simmer, infidelities occur, resentments are harboured and judgements passed.
The equilibrium of life in Ewedown is upset when the alluring Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) returns to the village of her childhood with the intention of renovating her mother’s old house. Tamara has, we come to understand, undergone something of a metamorphosis (ugly duckling to beautiful swan), thanks to a much-talked-about nose job.
The menfolk are immediately enthralled, particularly the philandering crime author Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and Tamara’s former teenage sweetheart Andy Cobb (Andy Evans), now a ruggedly handsome handyman. Initially and somewhat bizarrely (in the case of Andy, not Nicholas), she spurns them both in favour of a vacuous rock-star drummer, Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper).
A writer’s retreat owned and run by the Hardiments provides endless opportunities for satire, both of the self-indulgent, wildly competitive authors who visit and of the rural aspirations of the middle class in general. Tamsin Greig is excellent as Beth, a woman whose unhappiness over her husband’s infidelities gnaws away at her. Instead of acting on this, she spends her time tending to his ego and needs, as well as those of the guests, while simultaneously rearing hens and making cakes with the eggs they lay. A bucolic idyll this is not.
The tedium of growing up in a tiny village is captured perfectly by Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie), two bored schoolgirls who mooch around the bus stop, smoking illicit cigarettes, reading endless magazines and obsessing about moving away. This, combined with a certain infatuation with Ben (now Tamara’s fiancé), prompts much scheming.
In a prank echoing one played by the heroine Bathsheba in Hardy’s novel, they break into Tamara’s house and send three identical Valentine e-mails to her suitors. As expected, chaos ensues. Something about Tamara Drewe means it feels less like a film than a made-for-television adaptation or a countryside soap opera.
Be warned, it isn’t gripping or particularly intellectually stimulating, and although it has been criticised for being populated by caricatures, surely that’s what comes with satire. Either way, it is a pleasantly entertaining, visually pleasing, frothy tale.
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