You know the saying, you can never go back? The sense of longing of want to go back to the ‘old days’ looming in the past is a feeling we all get. But you know you can’t, you must go forward and live for the future. Tamara Drewe, the latest film from director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Hit and The Queen) is a witty and sublime, character driven piece set in the English countryside. It’s absolutely wonderful and engaging. It’s an interesting retelling of the Ugly Duckling by way of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd, adapted from Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel.
The film centers around the sleepy village of Ewedown, a village where struggling writers commune to refine or evoke their craft. These retreats offer workshops and housing by successful yet uninspired mystery novelist, Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and his wife Beth (Tamsin Greig). But when Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) returns to the her home, with a new nose, to oversee the selling her her childhood home, she injects a certain sex appeal and excitement missing from the village. Filled with misfit teenagers, indentured farmhands and flamboyant rock stars, Tamara Drewe is a refreshing and extremely funny character study masterly balanced with broad comedy and subtle moments.
The cast is magnificent, led by Roger Allam who plays the egoist, womanizing novelist hack, Nicholas Hardiment. When the film begins, we learn that he’s been having an affair with a much younger woman from London. When she travels to Ewedown, demanding to be with Nicholas, his wife finds out and give him an ultimatum, either her or me. Ultimately choosing his wife of 30 years, the seed of doubt is brought upon his character. Gemma Arterton is a breath of fresh air and a wonderful revelation for American audiences. Until this point we roles in American films have been relegated to set decoration with a pretty face (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Clash of The Titans) but in Tamara Drewe her natural beauty and sexuality are subverted by a prosthetic nose. The characters in this film are so rich and deep, and adds so much texture to this wonderful film.
Stephen Frears is a master of making small films with such a wide and broad scope. Full of energy and heart, Frears is quickly filling the void left by the death of Robert Altman. In many ways, they are very similar filmmakers. Both more interested in characters, behavior and social class, Tamara Drewe is comparable to Altman’s Gosford Park in theme and comedy. An interesting surplus of character decisions exhibit a well stated point of some actions are punished and some actions are not. The randomness of the outcomes make this film very unconventional, they are not meant to teach a lesson, they are meant to shed light on decisions. Tamara Drewe is full of character scenarios that will be debated at length after every viewing.
This is one of the best films I’ve seen all year. One of the few that actually hit the marks they are shooting for. A film well executed and displays a wonderful array of talent. Tamara Drewe is a film worth seeing and is something you can always go back to.