Review: ‘Tamara Drewe’

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The Pitch: Close To The Maddening Crowd.

The Review: Comic book adaptations are two-a-penny these days, but comic strip adaptations are a harder nut to crack. Tamara Drewe was a launch strip for the resized Guardian newspaper in 2005 and ran for over 100 episodes, but it took its inspiration from a Thomas Hardy novel dating back all the way to the 1870s. At the centre of both stories are infidelities and strong women, although it’s the modern trappings applied to The Guardian’s version that seem to have appealed more to those adapting this tale.

Early on, though, this has the feel of a fairly traditional British adaptation, more in the mould of a Richard Curtis movie, with the many writers attending a country retreat all reading aloud from their varied stories, but the movie quickly takes on a different, but still British tone, with characters’ lives quickly intertwining and stylised flashbacks setting up the existing relationships. From there, the initial tone is something of a romp, with lots of good-hearted, gentle comedy mixed with the typical trials and tribulations of modern relationships and flirtings.

Gemma Arterton may be the title character, but she’s not the lead – in keeping with the source material, the story is told from shifting perspectives and we see a number of different, interweaving subplots, although Tamara’s fingerprints are over most of them. Arterton herself is again on more interesting ground than most of the blockbusters she’s appeared in recently, but is just as game as she was in this year’s earlier “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”, in more ways than one. The rest of the cast are also generally on good form, especially Tamsin Greig as the hard-working farm owner and Roger Allam as her philandering novelist husband. Sadly, Tamara’s younger suitors, Dominic Cooper and Luke Evans leave slightly less of an impression.

Director Stephen Frears has been making interesting cinematic choices for over twenty years and is well versed in comedy, so is well at home setting the tone, flitting between frothy and bawdy, but there was more to the source material than that and thankfully Frears isn’t afraid to explore some of these darker areas as well, bringing a more genuine sense of emotion in the process. While not quite as dark as the originals, there’s enough here to give serious balance, and the result is a rather rewarding concoction that might leave you smiling or pondering, but should certainly leave you satisfied.

Why see it at the cinema: Not a popular choice, judging by the sparse crowd I saw this with on the opening Saturday evening, possibly put off by this very misleading and quite horrible trailer. Give it a chance and there’s plenty to enjoy here, not least the cinematic expanses of the lush English countryside.

The Score: 8/10

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