Thursday, 23 September 2010

'Tamara Drewe' review:

I have to admit I was a little prejudiced towards Stephen Frears' latest film, 'Tamara Drewe'. For every good review (like Peter Bradshaw's intriguing write up in The Guardian), there was a nagging doubt based on several, admittedly superficial, factors. First among these was the horrible trailer in which a character says “she doesn't need a boy... she needs a man” (a line which never actually appears in the film). Then there was the poster, which generally just displayed Gemma Arterton in hot pants, resting on a fence in a bright and cheerful Dorset setting. These efforts to promote the film actually sold it short, giving little indication of the loose morals, black comedy and violent tragedy that actually lay within.

'Tamara Drewe' is based on a newspaper comic of the same name by Posy Simmonds, and sees Tamara (Arterton), an attractive young journalist, return to the quaint village of her youth in order to sell her family home. However, she soon disrupts the equilibrium of the village with her beauty, and her new rock star boyfriend (Dominic Cooper). The original comic was a reworking of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd - a fact that the film pays homage to with frequent references to Hardy's life and work, via a socially awkward American academic (a touching underdog played by Bill Camp).

In fact 'Tamara Drewe' is pretty solidly entertaining. It was never as sidesplittingly funny for me as it was for the rest of the audience (though I did laugh), but what won me over was the characters, who seem like broad archetypes from the outset but reveal more depth and complexity as the film goes on. By the its climax, the film has taken many unexpected turns and shunned many established conventions. For example, none of the characters are purely good or bad, with the adultery of Roger Allam's pompous author not able to completely diminish his wife's affection for him by the film's conclusion. Similarly, a less interesting film would have seen the “good” boyfriend (the boring Andy, played by Luke Evans) getting one over Dominic Cooper's indie hellraiser Ben, but again this never really materialises.

Instead there are performances of disarming depth and subtlety. Notably from Tamsin Grieg, who is the emotional centre of the film. Arterton is passable as Tamara, although she is probably the film's weakest suit. But it doesn't matter at all, because every other performer is really appealing. It is also of note that 'Tamara Drewe' features some of the best screen depictions of children that I have ever seen (Jessica Barden being the standout case), as two young girls gossip and bitch throughout the film – refreshingly not played by actors in their mid-twenties. They too are afforded a degree of emotional complexity and depth that goes beyond their comic exterior.

I can't say I ever need to see 'Tamara Drewe' again. But I was never bored and was always kept pleasantly entertained by a film with more to offer than perhaps immediately meets the eye.

'Tamara Drewe' is still on general release in the UK and is rated '15' by the BBFC. Also, check out my other recent reviews for 'A Town Called Panic' and 'Round Ireland With a Fridge'.

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