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Movie Review: Tamara Drewe

By Philip Martin

This article was published December 10, 2010 at 3:01 a.m.

Philip Martin is blogging daily with reviews of movies, TV, music and more at Blood, Dirt & Angels.

— A meandering, slack-key movie based on a graphic novel (that is itself loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd), Stephen Frears’ Tamara Drewe is an enjoyably forgettable experience that glides over you like a maddeningly inane Europop song. That is to say, you don’t quite get it and you might rather hear something else but it’s got its own, oddly intoxicating, cheesy charm.

I can hardly remember the plot, only a few discrete images: Gemma Arterton as the title character in a ridiculous Nicole Kidman-in-The Hours fake snout; Dominic Cooper in eye kohl and leather; Tamsin Greig as a long-suffering housewife; and most of all, the Greek Chorus comprises two sniggering and needysmall-town girls, Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie), who for all I know may be dreaming the entire mad scenario.

But let’s see how far I can get with the plot. The filmis set in the extraordinarily beautiful English countryside, in a fictitious village in Dorset, which is where Hardy set his books. There’s a writer’s colony there, populated by several obvious types, including an American academic who’s writing a Hardy biography (Bill Camp) and who has a rather obvious crush on Beth Hardiment (Greig), the proprietress who’s married to the philandering Nicholas (Roger Allam), a best-selling writer of middle-brow mysteries.

One day Tamara Drewe, now a successful London journalist but previously thevillage ugly duckling (sporting the aforementioned unfortunate nose) returns home, ostensibly to ready the family home for market. Backin London, Drewe had undergone rhinoplasty, which had rendered her - ta da, beautiful. Local hunk Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) had likedher even before she had work done, but now she’s out of his league, attracting the attentions of famous rock drummer Ben (Cooper) - who’sthe object of cheeky Jody’s affection - and the ever-priapic Nicholas.

Oh, and Ben has a dog, named Boss, who has an unfortunate tendency to chase cattle.

Lots of things happen that may have made some kind of sense in an episodic crawl like a newspaper comic strip (which is how Tamara Drewe first appeared) but seem random and ultimately inconsequential in a moving picture. Frears is able to tease out some very pretty pictures, I very much enjoyed the songs that Cooper sang over the end credits, and Greig delivers such a rooted and still performance in the midst of all the fluttering about that I’m seriously considering her as a best supporting actresstout, but if there was a point to the whole thing I’m afraid it eluded me.

But I liked the girls, Jody and Casey, and their bored, sullen yet indomitably optimistic cattiness. I’d watch a movie about them.

MovieStyle, Pages 38 on 12/10/2010

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