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
The Review: Movies based on video games are almost invariably bad movies. From the spectacularly awful Super Mario Bros. onwards, the genre (if it deserves such a grand title) has thrown out bad movie after bad movie, so it would take a brave soul to invest major summer movie money in a video game adaptation. On paper, this had two things going for it – it’s based on one of the best games from a series of really good games, and it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer production, which normally ensures at least some level of quality threshold.
But there’s something else in common with most video game movies – any of the best bits in most of the not completely terrible ones do have that feeling of watching someone else play a video game, in that it would be more fun to be controlling the action than watching someone else do it. As video games themselves have become more cinematic over the past ten years, you could reasonably hope that adaptations would also improve, and to a certain extent that’s true here. If anything, the biggest single failing here is of the movie to use the video game power effectively – the rewinds thanks to the sand offer less here than they did in the original game, and somehow feel less mythical.
There is good stuff here if you’re patient, but it’s mixed in with some not so good. Jake Gyllenhall was an unlikely choice for the titular prince, but brings a flawless English accent when, after movies like Robin Hood, people may not have complained if he’d stuck with his own, and he has also acquired the appropriate physical stature. Gemma Arterton, sadly, fares less well; she gets some good lines, although oddly her accent is less convincing than Gyllenhall’s in some places, and she doesn’t have the same sense of fun that she’s managed to bring to some of her other movies. That’s left to Alfred Molina, who is comic relief to such an extent that he appears to be in almost an entirely different film, but one that while not necessarily better, may at least be more fun. Ben Kingsley delivers a rent-a-baddie and manages to be clichéd without being scenery-chewing, when neither or both may have again served better. The script is the most variable, keeping things moving along nicely with the occasional surprise, but sometimes featuring exposition so heavy you can almost see the bottom of the screen sagging under the weight.
Going in, you’d hope that the movie might evoke comparisons to Pirates of the Caribbean or an Indiana Jones movie; instead the level is more Romancing the Stone and its desert based sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, with the main characters bickering their way through a sort of road movie adventure. This is the best video game adaptation yet brought to film, and that is damning with faint praise, but the action scenes are all well realised (to the extent where I’d almost like to see what Newell could do with a Bond movie) and there is more fun and adventure than many failed summer efforts, just not enough to make this more than a passing entertainment. If only Bruckheimer had a real Sands of Time dagger, he may have been able to rewind enough to tweak this to greatness.
Why see it at the cinema: It does deliver on scale and spectacle, and thankfully escaped a fate worse than box-office death (a 3D conversion).
The Score: 6/10