Tamara Drewe Review
More than one chicken comes home to roost in ‘Tamara Drewe’, director Stephen Frears’ new comedy set in the rolling fields of the English countryside and adapted from the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds. A droll tale of rural love and lust, this attractively made British production boasts a bone dry sense of humour along with a well-chosen cast of familiar faces and up-and-coming talent. It might not be the “funniest British comedy since Four Weddings and a Funeral” as proclaimed by the radio ads, but it is one of the stronger efforts of recent years – even if the comedy label is a tad misleading.
Tamara’s return to Ewedown to clear out her late mother’s home and sell the old pile kicks off a series of romantic dalliances, involving gruff handyman Andy (Luke Evans), an old flame; rock-star drummer Ben (Dominic Cooper), who moves in with her when his band splits up; and smarmy crime-fiction author Nicholas (Roger Allam), already in the midst of an affair which his wife, Beth (Tamsin Greig), has begun to suspect. Staying at Nicholas and Beth’s farmhouse writer’s retreat is Bill Bryson look-alike Glen (Bill Camp), who starts to develop a crush on Beth. Adding fuel to the fire are two tearaway teens, Casey (Charlotte Christie) and Jody (Jessica Barden), who lust after Ben and resort to extreme measures to get within touching distance of him.
In much the same way that Bridget Jones’ Diary was a loose reworking of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Tamara Drewe takes its inspiration from Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd (a point hammered home not once but twice in the film’s opening shots). The Bridget Jones comparison is not an unwarranted one. Certainly their stories bear more than a passing similarity: both have their origins in UK broadsheets, both take place over the course of a single year, and both focus on a female protagonist trying to get their life in to some sort of order, bedding the wrong men along the way while the right one is staring them in the face.
Though marketed as a frivolous diversion, Frears and screenwriter Moira Buffini bring a darker edge to their story than the comparatively tame Bridget Jones dared. Indeed, there is a touch of Ealing about its playful exploration of an English community and its values. The setting may be the quaint village of Ewedown, with its winding lanes, thatched cottages and traditional pub, but underneath this postcard veneer is a slightly more sordid tale of adultery and jealousy. The characters are not exaggerated sitcom cut-outs either; some are more flawed than others, but all are given enough screen time to feel rounded and believable. The pleasure comes from seeing them make mistakes, rebound from them, and then make entirely new mistakes.
But while the innocent Tamara is off shagging the narcissistic Ben, it is Beth, the workhorse wife of the adulterous Nicholas, whose plight stirs the most sympathy. Greig and Allam turn in pitch perfect performances, anchoring the film during both lighter and darker moments. Allam in particular imbues Nicholas with charm and intellect that has grown too accustomed to being treated as genius. Gemma Arterton is undoubtedly appealing as Tamara, whether sporting shorts that are far too short or an enormous false nose in flashbacks to her teen years. She certainly seems more at home here that she did in Hollywood fare like Clash of the Titans or Prince of Persia, even if she never really sets the screen alight.
Frears lets the story flow gently yet purposefully and never succumbs to the temptation of simply shooting the (very picturesque) scenery. The film’s tone only wavers a little towards the end, when the comedy veers in to slightly blacker territory. This may not sit too comfortably with audiences expecting a cosy fireside rom-com, but for those who like a twist of lemon with their laughs, the cheeky wink of Tamara Drewe will do quite nicely.