by Eric D. Snider
Released: October 8, 2010
Don't be misled by the title of "Tamara Drewe." Though there is a character by that name who figures prominently in the story, the film is an ensemble piece. Tamara herself is not the most sympathetic or likable part of the group -- though she's hardly the worst, either. She has a lot of competition there.
Based on Posy Simmonds' graphic novel, "Tamara Drewe" follows in the tradition of British comedies set in twee little countryside villages. It has the usual allotment of oddball characters, ranging from the merely daft to the comically malevolent, and gives them all something amusing to do. There's no message, really, just whimsical comedy-of-manners nonsense.
The primary setting is a quaint, picturesque farm owned by a middle-aged couple named Nicholas and Beth Hardiment. Nicholas (Roger Allam), a bestselling writer of cheap, popular fiction, is a pretentious boor who cheats on Beth regularly. Beth (Tamsin Greig), oblivious to her husband's philandering, helps him with every aspect of his writing career, like an unpaid intern.
The Hardiments host a writers' retreat at their farm, attended by zealous would-be authors who want some peace and quiet and especially want to meet the famous Nicholas Hardiment. (Nicholas hates the writers but loves having a captive audience at dinner to regale with his pedantic musings on the art of writing.) One writer, an American named Glen (Bill Camp), has been struggling with a scholarly work about Thomas Hardy for years, but finds the farm -- and Beth's kind hospitality -- refreshing.
Across the field from the Hardiments' place is the old house where the wealthy Drewe family used to live. The daughter, Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton), now a journalist in London, has returned to get the house ready for sale after the death of her parents. Formerly an ugly duckling, she surprises everyone in town with her shapely, grown-up body and her surgery-reduced nose. Especially interested: Andy (Luke Evans), a childhood acquaintance who's now a farm hand for the Hardiments.
Meanwhile, there are two bored schoolgirls, Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie), who serve as a kind of Greek chorus before eventually becoming part of the main story. These awful, piggish teenagers spend their time throwing eggs at cars and perusing gossip magazines, and Jody is obsessed with Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), the drummer for a rock band called Swipe. She becomes unhinged when Swipe performs nearby, and more unhinged when Ben subsequently begins dating Tamara Drewe.
Well, it's all scandals and shenanigans and secrets from there, most of it jolly good fun. The screenplay, by Moira Buffini, is relatively faithful to the source material, though the movie version seems broader and funnier than the book. The director, Stephen Frears ("The Queen," "High Fidelity"), keeps a light tone without falling into zaniness, and the cast is game for anything. It's missing some of the graphic novel's literary depth -- yes, literary depth -- but by itself it's a fine diversion filled with silly people following their silly desires.
Rated R, a lot of harsh profanity, some sexuality and partial nudity, brief violence
1 hr., 50 min.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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