Initially Published Here
Unlike damn near any other graphic novel adaptation that comes to mind, director Stephen Frears’ latest is a bittersweet comedy of manners centered on a writer’s retreat in the English countryside that is thrown into turmoil upon the return of one Ms. Drewe (Gemma Arterton). Tamara grew up the daughter of well-to-do parents resented by the locals. Possessing a beak of frightening proportions, all it took was some remarkably skilled rhinoplasty to turn her ugly duckling into a beautiful swan desired by every man who crosses her path. Will she find love with her old boyfriend, the handsome farm hand Andy (Luke Evans), whose ancestral home the Drewe’s took possession of when he was a teenager, or perhaps with Ben (Dominic Cooper), her dim-bulb rock star lover? Certainly she won’t fall for the serial philanderer Nicholas (Roger Allam), the successful author of trashy mystery novels who hosts the retreat on the farm he shares with his all too forgiving wife Beth.
Throw into this mix a pair of local teenage girls starved for any sort of excitement, a local bar maid who operates as a voice of reason (as well as fuck buddy) for Andy, and Glen (Bill Camp), an American academic trying to finish a critical analysis of Thomas Hardy (the graphic novel was greatly influenced by Far From the Madding Crowd), and you have a film damn near bursting at the seams with characters constantly intertwining in various pairings and assignations. Frears manages to balance it all remarkably well, although we could have done with a little less Jody (Jessica Barden), the more precocious of the two adolescents and whose access to Tamara’s e-mail account is used once too often as a device for moving things forward.
At the center of it all is the beautiful Arterton, who pulls off the difficult trick of allowing us to see the inner sadness of this girl who seemingly has all she could want. In fact, most of the characters are equally well-drawn so that no one is in fact always a heel or always saintly. Even poor Glen, who seems throughout to be the most truthful and perceptive of them all, resorts to a bit of dishonesty when it serves his purpose. And the womanizing Nicholas is more of a buffoon than outright evil and as a result his ultimate comeuppance still has the ability to evoke both shock and laughter.
Tamara Drewe occasionally feels as if it’s checking off necessary exposition as it goes and it rarely feels as though the scenes are flowing seamlessly into one another. The occasional clunkiness aside, however, it is a modest charmer with a cast of characters one can enjoy spending time with.