Tamara Drewe’s (Gemma Arterton) return to the rural Dorset village where she grew up causes something of a stir. Having left as an awkward teenager she returns as a smouldering femme fatale, kicking up a storm of envy, lust and gossip wherever she goes.

Based on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel.

1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM

A tepid romantic farce.

For decades, the Old Hollywood, the one when they still had studios and everyone looked really beautiful, had a list of rules that set the standard – for better or worse – for what was permissible in filmed entertainment. One of these, largely unspoken rules, was 'Don’t shoot the dog’. Another cautioned writers to steer clear of satire, and black comedy: 'If you wanna do a comedy, make sure the audience knows when they ought to laugh and for how long.’

It’s not cool to admit to a yen for the style of old movies, especially these days, but watching Tamara Drewe I started to get a tad nostalgic. This movie is like getting stuck with an immature smart-arse who doesn’t know when to shut up and has yet to learn the art of the graceful punchline. Suffice to say, this tepid romantic farce is the kind of film where canines can be brutally assassinated with impunity and the laughs are conceived as post-modern commentary on the nature of literature and love, love and literature.

Based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, it’s a contemporary piece set in a writer’s colony in a tiny village in Dorset England, the type of place where the sunsets are always picture postcard perfect and even the cows are pretty. The story concerns romantic intrigue. The plot, like Simmonds’ fiction, parodies the novel Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.

Envy, jealousy, infatuation, admiration, and devotion dominate the action. The movie is so cleverly worked out and framed we immediately key into the fact that each of the characters represent one of these emotions on an imaginary checklist of desire. There’s an even a device here, where we get a chance to review the action via the musings of two adolescent girls – Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie). These two hang out in bus shelters and throw harmless missiles at passing cars and ponder the bedroom antics of the village adults with a mix of contempt and heartfelt longing that is the exclusive province of the sexually inexperienced. Still, they don’t quite escape the rigid scheme laid out in the screenplay by Moira Buffini since they ultimately represent infatuation.

As for Tamara (Gemma Arterton), she represents lust (amongst other things). Once upon a time she was the village ugly duckling. When the film opens, she has returned home with a nose job and a new life as a famous media personality – and her presence upsets the balance of (sexual) power in the village (much bed hopping ensues). As the movie develops she gets it off with a rockstar, Ben (Dominic Cooper), who’s taking a holiday in the district. Later she begins what looks like a more substantial affair with crime-novelist Nicholas (Roger Allam), who runs the writer’s colony with his long suffering wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) who tolerates her husbands serial tom-catting with the confidence of a spouse who understands that integrity has its own erotic appeal, a virtue bound to trump a voluptuous figure every time"¦

Tamara has another potential sex-match in the spunky Andy (Luke Evans), local handyman with whom she once had, as a teenager, a brief pre-nose job fling. Meanwhile, sexual timidity and melancholia finds a masthead in the downbeat American author McCreavy (Bill Camp), who is writing a non-fiction tome on Hardy and harbours a secret desire for Beth.

Director Stephen Frears has a long list of distinguished credits: My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Prick Up Your Ears (1987), The Grifters (1990), High Fidelity (2000), and The Queen (2006). He’s a filmmaker lauded for being blunt, a little brash and intelligent. But the most 'daring’ thing here is a long-held shot of a cow taking an endless piss. Aside from his rather bland, character-less shooting style, Frears, it strikes me, has always had a mean streak; his much admired lack of sentimentality seems less like a filmmaker of no illusions, but a director who heartlessly conceives of his characters as mere figures to admire at arms-length, or else pity or scorn. There’s no pure joy, even in Frears’ best movies, and in The Queen, this kind of ironic distance was crucial to the film’s tone. In Tamara Drewe, his kind of wry point-making style tends to corrupt feeling and emotion. The characters are silly, self-centred and mindless in their pursuit of satisfaction and, of course, that’s absolutely forgivable since it’s all too human. But Frears seems to want to 'say something’ about modern sexuality in an age of cyber bullying.

Tamara Drewe seems to suggest we have a 'right’ to sex (what a relief) but it must be used with responsibility under the supervision of adults, where possible. If that sounds smugly indifferent to genuine feeling, and passion, and a little humourless, it is.

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1 hour 51 min
In Cinemas 03 February 2011,
Thu, 06/16/2011 - 11