(Stephen Frears, 2010, UK)
Adapted from a comic strip published in The Guardian newspaper and inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, Stephen Frears’ latest film, Tamara Drewe, exposes a frothy, sun-drenched romp set in rural Dorset and features a highly impressive cast of British talent.
Gemma Arterton fills the hotpants of protagonist Tamara Drewe, a feisty, attractive journalist who returns to her static hometown to settle the assets of her recently deceased mother. Initially bored by the rustic bourgeois of Ewedown, Devon, Tamara manages to catch the eye of many of the sex starved locals, including a dashing old flame, a tempestuous rock star and best-selling novelist Nicholas Hardiment (played with relish by Roger Allam). Her arrival scratches the surface of this seemingly idyllic locale, revealing buried passions, forgotten desires and scandalous indiscretions.
Though the film has a few stand-out moments and an excessively tongue-in-cheek nature, Tamara Drewe suffers from a flippant tone, jokes that miss more than they hit and an abundance of plot strands and characters, with enough material to fill a TV mini-series. The film could have done with a hefty edit, which would’ve prevented it from dragging slightly in its flouncy third act and kept the attention centred on one constant narrative.
Yet for all its gaping flaws and inconsistent focus, I found myself enjoying the film more than my initially low expectations lead me to believe, it’s overstuffed yet inoffensive and features some great performances. At the films core is a heartbreaking turn from Tamsin Greig as the downtrodden, pleasantly frumpy Beth, who must cope with her husband’s copious affairs whilst harbouring hidden desires of her own.
While not Frears’ worst film, it is by no means his best either, but then again, I am perhaps not exactly his target demographic this time round.
Tamara Drewe [Film] Directed by Stephen Frears. UK: BBC Films.