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With: Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Bill Camp, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, Tamsin Greig, Jessica Barden, Charlotte Christie, James Naughtie, John Bett, Josie Taylor, Bronagh Gallagher, Pippa Haywood, Susan Wooldridge, Amanda Lawrence
Written by: Moira Buffini, based on a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds
Directed by: Stephen Frears
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 111
Date: 05/18/2010

Tamara Drewe (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Writers' Crock

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The trailer for Stephen Frears' Tamara Drewe makes it look like one of those quaint, lightweight British comedies that play in the arthouses for a little while, but no one ever remembers, like Frears' last movie, Cheri (2009). Thankfully there's a good deal more going on here, and Tamara Drewe -- based on a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds -- veers into some unexpected and emotionally complex territory.

It's set at a countryside writer's colony, owned by bestselling author Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and operated by his hard-working wife Beth (Tamsin Greig). Nicholas is a serial philanderer, and in the first reel, he meets up with his beautiful mistress, breaks up with his wife, and then breaks up with his mistress and tearfully reunites with his wife. It's not long before Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) arrives; she's a former resident of this small town, but now returns a successful journalist and with a cute new nose (to replace her former, horrible hooked honker, seen in flashbacks). She climbs over a fence while wearing some sinful cutoff shorts, and every head turns. Nicholas, in particular, is a goner.

The story occasionally focuses on a few other characters. Token American Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp) is stuck on a scholarly study of Thomas Hardy. Tamara interviews a rock star, Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), and winds up having a longstanding relationship with him. Meanwhile, two local teens, Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie), are thrilled that Ben is in town, but nonplussed that he's sleeping with Tamara and not them. They begin a sneaky campaign to move the situation closer to their liking. Finally, local handyman Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) works for Beth and was once in love with Tamara. Their relationship is further complicated by the fact that he's staying in the house that Tamara owns.

All that aside, Frears somehow manages to burrow slightly under the surface of these characters and situations, finding moments of real pain and real longing, rather than just whimsy. For example, Tamara could easily have been a sex symbol with no personality, especially given that she sleeps with three men over the course of the film, but she has a soul, and her choices make emotional sense. This is the first time I've seen Arterton in a real role, after her monosyllabic, window-dressing roles in the terrible films Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia, and she's a real delight. She's an unusual, tricky beauty and I look forward to seeing more of this side of her.

Likewise, most of these characters begin as "types" and then become more and more fleshed out as the film goes on. Others are left behind, such as the character actress Bronagh Gallagher (The Commitments, Pulp Fiction, Last Chance Harvey, etc.); she turns up in one scene, as a writer at the colony, working on lesbian erotic fiction. She's treated as a joke, and then we never see her again. That's a shame, but it's good that the other characters did not suffer the same sorry fate. Instead, we get a movie driven by the unpredictable needs and natures of human emotions, rather than one trying to force them into a structure. The result is delightfully messy, and true.

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