Look at the posters for Stephen Frears’ latest release Tamara Drewe, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that it looked like an air-headed Bridget Jones-esque British comedy, perhaps funny but shallow and cheesy.
Hopefully this won’t put people off what is actually a much darker, satisfying and well-rounded film than first appears.
Frears has an excellent track record in his genre-hopping, consistently high quality career, winning over audiences and critics with the likes of High Fidelity and The Queen. Here, he takes on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel of the same name, based loosely upon Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, telling the story of the titular journalist who returns to her childhood home in the picturesque Dorset countryside, and becomes the epicentre of an increasingly twisting series of affairs and betrayals.
Tamara Drewe is a darker-than-expected treat, with a wonderfully mischievous tone. The characters are bewildered pawns manipulated over the plot, and the generally satirical comedy mocks pretentious authors and vacuous rock stars. It’s all extremely British.
It’s extremely satisfying to sit back and watch as the characters become evermore entangled as the plot moves further and further into farce. Overhanging all proceedings creeps a slightly uncomfortable feeling that soon everything will go horribly wrong.
Frears treads the line between comedy and drama finely, and whilst at times Tamara Drewe is very funny (mixing big laughs and a few smirks and giggles), it is also very affecting due to some fantastic performances. Tamsin Greig is absolutely brilliant as the put-upon housewife who creates her own idyllic countryside writer’s retreat but is constantly battered down by her husband’s (Roger Allam) infidelity and smarmy ego. Allam is excellent as the supremely vile Nick, while Bill Camp brings considerable heart in his well-judged, understated role as an American scholar with self esteem issues.
Also highly notable are Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie as the two roguish schoolgirls who, through the sheer boredom of living in the dull, sleepy village Ewedown end up scheming and causing trouble that begins innocently enough, but snowballs to a dangerous level. Barden is truly hilarious – audiences may recognise her as a former cast member of Corrie, and her counterpart Christie, a complete newcomer, is also extremely funny.
All these supporting characters mean that, strangely enough, it is Arterton’s lead role that occasionally feels underdeveloped. Tamara’s motivations are difficult to uncover, and that’s partly the point – as a woman she has reinvented herself, but she suffers an identity crisis as a result. However, there is rarely any alone time with the character for the audience to get into her head, though Arterton does a great job with what she’s given in a much more interesting role than those she played in Price of Persia and Clash of the Titans.
Tamara Drewe is a smart, sophisiticated and genuinely funny British film that deserves your seven quid, and even holds up on repeat viewings. Don’t expect it to be overly frothy - embrace its moments of darkness and enjoy.
Entertainment Value: 4/5
Genre Value: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5