Monday, 13 September 2010

Tamara Drewe review

I've mentioned previously Stephen Frears' film adaptation, with screenplay by Moira Buffini, of Posy Simmonds Tamara Drewe. We saw it today and highly recommend it; it was every bit up to expectations.

As is generally known, it takes its scenario loosely from Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd: the beautiful Tamara (played by Gemma Arterton) comes to the Dorset village of her childhood to initiate renovation and sale of her late mother's house. There she becomes the focus of attraction for three men: the reliable handyman and past lover Andy Cobb (Luke Evans), the adulterous author Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam), and the charismatic indy band drummer Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper) who she is interviewing.

Over the course of a year, their shifting relationships are watched by Hardiment's long-suffering wife Beth (Tamsin Greig), the weary academic Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp) and the other residents of the writers' retreat run by the Hardiments, and by two bored and mischievous village teenagers, Jody and Casey (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie). Eventually, the already tense situation is raised to boiling point by Jody - who is smitten with Ben - sending a provocative forged e-mail to all of Tamara's suitors.

The film could be described a tragicomic farce, deliciously wry rather than laugh-out-loud. The casting, locations and characterisation can't be faulted; it handles its different threads deftly; and it's tightly storyboarded from the graphic novel, except for a very effective and sympathetic change to part of the resolution. The main story is rich in Thomas Hardy book and movie allusions without being heavy-handed, from the lovely set pieces such as Ben impressing Tamara with his skill with drumsticks (just as Captain Troy impresses Bathsheba with his swordsmanship) down to the minor characters called Tess, Eustacia and Diggory.

The whole story is given greater depth by Simmonds' sharp observations of the difficult social trends of villages taken over by Yuppie culture, and of the foibles and pretensions of the writing circuit; a recurring theme, right through to the end credits (don't miss the song) is how writers recycle their experience into their works. I particularly liked the way it manages to bring a sympathetic edge to Tamara, the Bathsheba character (she could be unsufferable and too perfect, but her burden is that she is an unwitting femme fatale who evidently hasn't come to terms with her new-found attractiveness after rhinoplasty) and the way the film made Jody and Casey even more central to the story. They act both as a Hardyesque rustic Greek chorus, and as classic trickster figures - superficially disruptive, but the eventual catalysts for change and resolution.

It's hard to single any actor out as especially good, but Dominic Cooper was outstanding as the scary and charismatic Ben Sergeant, as was Jessica Barden as Jody (she did well not to get entrenched in a Coronation Street bit part). However, all concerned - author, adapters and cast - should be immensely proud of this film. Go and see it.

PS:  There's an excellent article - minor spoilers - about the genesis and making of the film in the Sony press kit.

- Ray

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