Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Stephen Frears

Stars: Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Tamsin Greig, Bill Camp, Luke Evans, Jessica Barden, Charlotte Christie, Dominic Cooper.

The press advertisements for Tamara Drewe somewhat grandiosely call it “the best British film of the year!” Such hyperbole doesn’t say much for the state of the British film industry if true! It also ignores the far superior efforts like 127 Hours, Made In Dagenham, The King’s Speech and Mike Leigh’s wonderful Another Year.

This is a laboured and surprisingly flatly directed and lightweight comedy from Stephen Frears, better known for The Queen, etc. It is based on a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, which apparently was also inspired by Thomas Hardy’s pastoral novel Far From The Madding Crowd, but it lacks the heightened reality common to most such adaptations. Tamara Drewe also ran as a comic strip in The Guardian for a couple of years. However, the script from Moira Buffini is uneven in tone and it loses the darker tone of the source. Buffini has badly misjudged many crucial moments, and the film is an awkward mix of broad bawdy bedroom farce and agonising pastoral drama.

The film stars former Bond girl Gemma Arterton as the titular character, a London-based journalist who returns home to the rustic small village of Ewedown to clean up her recently deceased mother’s house. Back then she was the ugly duckling with a far too prominent nose, and the butt of cruel jokes. Now she has had a nose job and dresses in provocatively sexy shorts, and easily turns the locals’ heads. She becomes caught up in the daily lives and infidelities of the locals. A game of sexual musical chairs erupts, which destroys many lives in the process.

One of the key settings is the writers’ retreat run by Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam), the pompous, smug and libidinous author of a series of successful detective novels, and his long suffering wife Beth (Tamsin Greig (from Black Books, etc), who soon tires of his flings. One of the writers is the perennially glum American McCreavy, (Bill Camp), who has been struggling for years with his epic opus on the life of author Thomas Hardy. There is also the handsome labourer Andy (Luke Evans) who has been infatuated with Tamara since they were teenagers. There also a couple of pesky bored school girls Jody Long and Casey Shaw (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie), who act as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on the foibles of this small town. They are infatuated with Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), the drummer of pop band Swipe. Tamara also becomes one of the many victims of the girls’ increasingly vicious pranks.

Unfortunately, most of the flawed characters here are an unlikeable bunch, and audiences will find it hard to warm to them. The most sympathetic characters are Beth, although she occasionally acts in strange fashion, and the lovelorn Andy.

Usually so accomplished and sure, Frears’ handling of the material here is hamfisted, and most of the humour is quickly bludgeoned into submission. The ensemble cast tries hard, and plays the broad material for all it’s worth. Rather than zipping along, the pace is surprisingly sluggish and forced. Frears tries hard to capture the bucolic charms of the film’s provincial setting, but the whole thing falls flat.

Most in the audience will resent the two hours spent in the less than pleasant company of Tamara and the sleazy, self-absorbed menfolk of Ewedown.



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