Film Review with Robert Mann – Tamara Drewe

Tamara Drewe ***½

Comics – they’re not all about superheroes you know. Case in point, Tamara Drewe, Posy Simmonds’ weekly comic strip published in The Guardian (and also released in its entirety as a hardcover graphic novel) which, based on Thomas Hardy’s nineteenth century novel Far from the Madding Crowd, follows the exploits of a young newspaper journalist –

the eponymous Tamara Drewe – who returns to her childhood home in the countryside, a concept that really is about as far removed from the typical comic/graphic novel fare as you could possibly get with a heroine who’s just as non-super. Now, Tamara Drewe has been adapted as one of 2010’s most high profile home grown British movies under the direction of Oscar nominated biographical drama ‘The Queen’s director Stephen Frears and with the title role going to the much in demand British actress Gemma Arterton who is returning to her British roots after playing prominent roles in recent Hollywood blockbusters Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Getting down and dirty in the country is the name of the game here so the question is whether the film is worth getting your wellies out.

Once a big-nosed, awkward teenager and now a glamorous newspaper journalist, Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) returns to the scene of her adolescence as her family home in the English countryside is put up for sale. Only this time she’s all grown up – and she’s had a nose job to boot! The ugly duckling transformed, Tamara’s arrival causes a stir among the local busybodies, receiving quite a reaction from ex-boyfriend and local eye candy Andy (Luke Evans) and married lothario Nicholas (Roger Allam), whose wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) is starting to grow tired of his constant playing away. Nicholas and Beth’s home is also a writer’s retreat and, among the writers staying there, American writer Glen (Bill Camp) begins to grow close to Beth as her marriage is falling apart. Meanwhile, Tamara begins to get reacquainted with her teenage home in more ways than one as she has a series of affairs, in particular with celebrity bad-boy drummer Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper) whose band is doing a concert there. This eyeliner-wearing heartthrob is the obsession of teenage girls everywhere, and in particular two meddlesome local schoolgirls – Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie). These troublesome teens are hell-bent on creating all sorts of chaos for Tamara – something that can only be made worse by Tamara herself.

Coming across essentially like a filthier feature length version of television soap Emmerdale, Tamara Drewe is a film that is hardly original or innovative. After all, many of the antics on display by not only Tamara but most of the film’s characters are just the sort of thing you would be likely to see on a certain aforementioned soap opera. Of course this film offers much higher quality than you would expect to find in a television soap, even if it isn’t of quite the standard you might expect given the credentials. This is a film that wears all the sex and sleaze within on its sleeve but far from appealing to the lowest common denominator it actually manages to maintain a degree of sophistication and comes across as quite smart in fact, the risqué nature of the film never being used for the sake of cheap laughs but rather realistic character based situations. You see, this isn’t one of those American comedies about sex and stuff, rather a British one and with that comes a certain style of humour, the comedy on display here being of a very British sense of humour. Embracing all the quirks of life in the British countryside and placing character orientated situations at the heart of the comedy as opposed to lame gags, the film is packed full of British wit, the dialogue frequently being very funny and there being some genuine laugh out loud moments within some of the situations that arise. Obviously a lot of this can be attributed to strong writing by Moira Buffini – the dialogue sounds authentic, incorporating country lingo and packed full of wit, and the characters are very well developed with flashbacks showing us Tamara’s childhood, occasional voiceover narration giving us insight into what some of the characters are thinking and even fantasy sequences allowing us to see the desires of some players – and direction by Stephen Frears but the thing that really makes it all work is the acting and in this regard the film is faultless with great character being brought to vivid life by great performances. Gemma Arterton is perfectly cast in the titular role, even though her screen time is not as great as you would undoubtedly expect – the film may be called Tamara Drewe but in reality it is more of an ensemble piece, her being the character who links everyone together but not really getting that much more screen time than anyone else and not even appearing for a short while at the start with other characters being developed before she even turns up – and her balance of naughty and nice makes for a performance that is amusing as it is believable and a character who is more than just the tart who she may appear to be to some. Her relationships with her co-stars are all completely convincing with her sharing a genuine chemistry with each of her romantic interests and each of them delivering a strong performance in their own right. Luke Evans is sweet, charming and charismatic as the virtually selfless country guy, Dominic Cooper is suitably rough around the edges as the somewhat more self absorbed famous drummer and Roger Allam is perfectly slick as the married older man who just can’t stay away from the younger girls. Elsewhere in the cast, Tamsin Greig delivers a very emotional performance as the wife whose marriage is falling to pieces despite her attempts to keep it alive and Bill Camp is amusing as the American writer who tries to comfort her. The show is really stolen, however, by the double act of Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie who, as the troublesome foul mouthed teenage girls Jody and Casey, deliver perhaps the funniest performances in the film, even if it is a tad troubling to see such young girls acting out in such a way. For all the great performances on display, however, the film is not perfect. While the ensemble approach does work for the most part with the multiple interconnecting plot strands/character arcs each being well developed and eventually coming together as one (all through the connections between characters created by Tamara Drewe herself), at times it does feel like there’s perhaps a few strands too many and perhaps a more focused narrative would have been of benefit to the film as a whole. The film is also rather long winded and seems like something that would have lent itself better to a television mini-series rather than a movie such as this. So, Tamara Drewe is not the amazing film you may expect given the track record of the director but it is nonetheless an enjoyable piece of British cinema that also boasts a 100% British soundtrack and has a superb backdrop courtesy of the beautiful countryside locations. Suffice to say, if you like Emmerdale you will definitely like this film.



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Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)


© BRWC 2010.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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