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Gemma Arterton is quickly emerging as one of cinema’s next biggest stars, having major roles in St. Trinian’s, Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans and Prince of the Persia: The Sands of Time. She has now landed her first leading role in the comic adaptation of Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel as the very sexy Tamara Drewe.
The village of Ewedown has become a writer’s retreat, a place for writers to relax, work and chew the fat. Crime novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and wife Beth (Tasmin Greig) run the place with an American academic, Glen (Bill Camp, who sounds a lot like William Hurt), struggling with his book on Thomas Hardy, staying with them. In the village, two schoolgirls, Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie) cause havoc and mayhem simply because they are bored. But the village is turned on its head when the attractive journalist Tamara Drewe (Arterton) returns home to sell her old house. She turns heads, including drummer Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), her old flame Andy (Luke Evans) and Nicholas.
Writer Moira Buffini and director Stephen Frears make a film with drama, wit and some moments of outright laughs. Frears was able to inject some style, like when characters speaking when there are on the phone. The humor of the film relies on a number of areas: witty comments and observation, physical violence and visual gags. The schoolgirls offer a lot of comedy because many people can empathize with their situation: rural England is not the most exciting place to grow up as a teenager. Their mischief-making and thrills about a star in their village compensates for Barden’s lack of confidence as an actress. It is refreshing to see teenage characters that do look their age.
Frears and Buffini aim to a make a charming comedy, but with more swearing — so trying to have their cake and eat it too. The two should have tried to have gone one way or the other. They make on a very schizophrenic film that tries to be comic and serious at different times and not knowing which route to go. It affects the tone of the film when Tamara Drewe should have a constant dry wit.
Strangely for a film called Tamara Drewe, there are long periods where she is not on the screen or mentioned. There are plots involving Nicholas’ wayward eyes and the budding relationship between Glen and Beth that walk the fine line of drama and comedy. Tamara Drewe goes from being pretty serious and hits you with a sudden joke and vice versa: working with effect.
Tamara Drewe is very British, but Glen the American does offer an outsider view and will allow a non-British audience a point-of-view, with few British swears and slang words being used. There are some issues affecting rural England, such as rich city folk buying houses and making villages too expensive to live in and boredom for young people, but it is hardly a political piece.
While some of the pacing is a little slow and the film ends up sidetracking at moments, there are strong performances from most of the cast. Atherton shows why she is a rising star, giving Tamara a quick, biting wit. Allam effectively plays a very slimy writer who takes advantage of his wife and he has a nack for playing dislikeable characters (his previous roles have been in V for Vendetta and Speed Racer). Cooper and Evans work well against each other as love rivals for Tamara, with Cooper really understanding the part of a pretentious indie musician. Greig too gives a good performance and given her background as a comic actress; her character is for the most part serious, with moments of witty comments.
Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by Moira Buffini, Posy Simmonds (Graphic Novel)
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, Roger Allam