Today: February 21, 2024
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Tamara Drewe

Frears makes a comic book movie

With all the brouhaha about the dissolution of the UKFC, it is great
to see it go out in style with a uniquely British film that avoids all
the usual clichés of British cinema: period pieces, gritty urban dramas,
mockney gangsters or flaccid rom-coms.

Stephen Frears’ Tamara Drewe highlights all the things that Britain is really good at:
literature, rock music, xenophobic country living, repressed emotions
and sexuality, and adultery. It is co-produced by that great British
institution that is the BBC, utilising some of the country’s best
writing and filmmaking talent.

The film is based on serialised
comic strip, or sequential art if you want to be a pit posher, by Posy
Simmonds that appeared in The Guardian (and later in book/graphic novel
form), which was in turn based on Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding
Crowd. In this updated version of the story, the titular Tamara (Arterton)
is a successful celebrity journalist who returns, transformed, to the
Dorset village where she grew up as a dorky teenager. The main
attraction of the village, apart from the recently returned prodigal
daughter, is a writers’ retreat held on the farmhouse of serial
philanderer and renowned crime writer Nicholas Hardiment (Allam), and his long-suffering wife Beth (Greig). The main focus of the film is Tamara’s antics with a visiting rock star (Cooper),
who also happens to attract the attention of two wayward teenage
fan-girls from the village, who are not only pivotal characters in the
story’s unfolding but also the best ones in the film. Also in Drewe’s
love quadrangle is Andy Cobb ( Evans), who is a gardener on the Hardiment’s farm, and looks like he has stepped straight out of a Hardy or Lawrence novel. In a nice nod to the original material,
one of the writers at the retreat is a frustrated American academic
(Camp) trying to write a definitive study of Hardy, and becomes inspired
by Beth. And so it goes on like a complicated episode of a rural soap
opera.

While it could easily slip into farce, under Frears’
skilled guidance it becomes a very smart, funny and well-observed look
at the social mores of the British without falling into glaring
stereotypes. All the characters are perfectly cast, and although they
aren’t totally realistic they are completely believable.

This
is a gem of a movie and proves that it is possible to make a truly
British film without relying on tired old genres or deliberately trying
to pander to overseas markets.

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