By Bill Wine
No superpowers for this striking comic-book heroine. Unless the ability to mesmerize every man she meets counts.
That’s what the title character in Tamara Drewe, based on the delightful and unique British graphic novel of the same name by Posy Simmonds, has going for her now that the formerly homely lass has returned to the bucolic village where she grew up, looking about ten times as fetching.
Inspired by, loosely based on, and applying a contemporary spin to the classic Thomas Hardy melodrama Far From the Madding Crowd but transformed into a pastoral comedy of manners, Tamara Drewe chronicles the entanglements, deceptions, and misadventures of a cluster of characters in picturesque rural England through a cycle of four seasons.
The trigger mechanism is provided by the pivotal Tamara, who used to be an ugly duckling but now returns after being transformed, courtesy of a nose job and growth and development in all the right places, into a dazzling vision that renders every man in her company worshipful (to be polite about it).
In the quaint hamlet of Ewedown, close enough to London to beckon wealthy city folk to spend weekends, is a homey writers’ retreat run by Beth (Tamson Greig), the wife of a well-known philandering novelist (Roger Allam), tended to by a handyman (Luke Evans) who lived here in his poverty-stricken youth, and providing a peaceful workplace/getaway for an American academic (Bill Camp) working on a literary biography of — who else? — Thomas Hardy.
Uninhibited and now-drop-dead-gorgeous Tamara, played by the drop-dead-gorgeous Gemma Arterton, makes her triumphant return dressed in the shortest of shorts, to look after her late mother’s property while she continues to write a column for a London newspaper, and brings with her the famous rock star (Dominic Cooper) whom she’s seeing and might even marry.
This starts village tongues wagging and local teenagers (Charlotte Christie and Jessica Barden) scheming as the locals work their way through the seven sins.
“What can ever, ever happen in a place like this?” asks one of the bored, frustrated teens.
Plenty, it turns out — most of it well short of tragic but on the distant side of problematic.
So drum up some mischief, shift into gossip gear, shake up the characters, and cue the soap opera music. But keep that smile machine humming as well.
Eclectic director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons, Hero, My Beautiful Laundrette), working from a glib and witty screenplay by Moira Buffini, employs a knowing hand and a light touch, and has his skilled ensemble — some of them gifted theatre veterans not especially familiar to the mainstream movie audience — working at a high level, with each character brought vibrantly to life, whatever the absurdist goings-on in their vicinity.
This is a relaxing escapist romp — a two-hour trip to the country, far from the madding crowd, to enjoy the sights and sounds, or lack thereof, and the pleasure of being a witness to other people’s problems — designed to lightly divert and stimulate and just as sure to escape the memory shortly thereafter, upon a return to routine.
So we’ll admire 3 stars out of 4 for the exuberant and enjoyable sex-appeal farce, Tamara Drewe. Yet another demonstration that a nose by any other name might smell as sweet, but wouldn’t look as good.