Phil on Film Index

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Review - Tamara Drewe

Comic adaptations may be big cinematic business right now, but Tamara Drewe comes from a very different world to the various effects-driven blockbusters that have drawn inspiration from this art form. Posy Simmonds' story, which ran for two years in The Guardian, takes place in the genteel environs of the English countryside, in a small village that's whipped into a fervour by the arrival of the title character. She's played by Gemma Arterton, giving an appealing lead performance as the reporter returning to the quiet place she grew up in, armed with a new nose, some tight shorts and an ability to catch the eye of every man who crosses her path. Tamara Drewe follows the fallout from the various sexual entanglements that her appearance prompts, events that bear more than a passing resemblance to Far From the Madding Crowd, although Stephen Frears' light-hearted romp is far more frivolous than the Hardy comparison suggests.

Frears brings his customary sense of simplicity to the film, ensuring the film proceeds at a steady pace and that the various plot strands weave together without any hitches. Moira Buffini's screenplay keeps switching the film's narrative perspective between Tamara and the large cast of supporting players, which is a good thing for the movie, because many of those characters inhabiting smaller roles are a lot more interesting and fun than Tamara herself. Much of the film takes place on a writers' retreat run by philandering crime novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and his long-suffering wife Beth (Tamsin Greig), who keeps believing her husband when he promises he won't cheat on her anymore. There's also a neurotic American writer (a funny Bill Camp) who is chronically blocked as he tries to complete an academic study of Thomas Hardy, and there are two bored teenagers (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie) whose sense of mischief is generally restricted to throwing eggs at passing cars, until circumstances offer them a more serious way to cause trouble.

What has always been consistent in Frears' films as he hops from genre to genre is the high level of performance offered by his cast, and once again in Tamara Drewe he benefits from a superb ensemble. Allam once again shows that nobody can play smug entitlement with quite as much relish as he can, while young Barden and Christie are outstanding as Jody and Casey. But it's Tamsin Greig who really impresses, giving an excellent and delicate performance as the put-upon Beth, with her slowly dawning realisation of her husband's repeated unfaithfulness being the most touching aspect of the film by a long way. Aside from that small hint of emotional depth, Tamara Drewe exists mostly on the surface, and for a film about people being ruled by lust it's a surprisingly passionless affair. The glib tone and the too-neat storytelling count against it, but Tamara Drewe can still be hailed as a success because of its genuinely funny moments and the uniformly fine acting. This may not be a film to live long in the memory, but you'll have a good time watching it.