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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: Tamara Drew (2010)

* * *

Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper

Tamara Drewe exists in an odd subgenre of films consisting on modern day takes of classic literature. Taking Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd as its base, it joins a tradition which includes Clueless (Emma) and Bridget Jones's Diary (Pride and Prejudice), amongst others, adaptations which at once demonstrate a degree of reverence for the source material while also displaying a more irreverently mordern attitude. Films like this vary in terms of their success and while Tamara Drewe lacks the narrative punch and resonance of Far From The Madding Crowd, it's a solidly entertaining film.

The story is set in Ewedown, a village in Dorset, to which Tamara Drew (Gemma Arterton) returns after several years, having become a successful journalist and having gotten a nose job. She's returned to sell her late mother's house and enlists the help of her childhood friend, Andy (Luke Evans) to get things in order. In addition to the work he does at Tamara's house, Andy also works for the Hardiments: Nicholas (Roger Allam), a famous and unfaithful writer, and his wife, Beth (Tamsin Greig), who runs a writers' retreat on their estate. One of the writers visiting is Glen (Ben McCreavy), whose work on a biography of Thomas Hardy provides the story's meta-commentary.

Tamara becomes involved in a relationship with Ben (Dominic Cooper), a famous drummer who is the object of adoration for two local teenage girls (one of whom is played by Jessica Barden, who is just as hilarious here as she was in Hanna). The relationship is complicated by the machinations of the two girls, the simmering tensions between Tamara and Andy, and Tamara's eventual (and ill-advised) involvement with Nicholas, all of which dovetail in the film's climactic scene of "bovine malice."

For the most part, Tamara Drewe proceeds as a comedy, though it does have moments of drama mixed in as well. It is loosely based on Far From the Madding Crowd (though it might be a more faithful to the graphic novel Tamara Drewe, which is its direct source) but it incorporates elements of the novel into its story in ways that are often brilliant. My favourite is how the scene in which Sgt. Troy (the Ben equivalent of the novel) demonstrates his swordsmanship is reworked into a scene showing Ben demonstrating his drumming abilities in Tamara's kitchen. The film has a strong enough connection to the novel to be considered an adaptation, but it puts a fresh enough spin on it that it can be considered its own entity as well.

Arterton delivers a strong performance as the eponymous character, though Tamara never really reaches the complexity of Hardy's Bathsheba Everdene. Though the film is named for Tamara, it's really more of an ensemble piece and Frears does an excellent job of establishing and maintaining the sense of community that helps keep the story afloat (although I would have enjoyed more scenes of the writers at the colony because, in their brief appearances, those characters provide the story with a lot of lightness and humor). Tamara Drewe is by no means a flawless film, but it's an entertaining and often compelling one.

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