|Gemma Arterton||Tamarra Drewe|
|Luke Evans||Andy Cobb|
|Dominic Cooper||Ben Sergeant|
|Roger Allam||Nicholas Hardiment|
|Bill Campbell||Glen McCreavy|
|Directed by||Stephen Frears|
Filtered through the lens of a popular graphic novel, and then tossed in a blanket by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Mrs. Henderson Presents), Thomas Hardy hasn't had this much fun in a century. If he ever did. Hardy, who died in 1924, was no paragon of domestic virtue; as revealed here in biographical bits and snippets, he was an adulterer whose eye for young ladies did not age along with the rest of his body. This in itself of course does not mean he didn't have fun; but if he did, apparently he did not spread much joy around.
The Hardy novel at issue here is Far From the Madding Crowd, published in 1874 and the one that put the author on the literary map. The graphic novel that derives from it is Tamara Drewe, by Posy Simmonds, a more cheerful adaptation which sets the action in the present in the bucolic Dorset hamlet of Ewedown, among a gaggle of writers presided over by a best-selling author of detective fiction, Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam). Nicholas and his long-suffering wife Beth (Tamsin Grieg) run a writers' retreat at their farm. Beth does the work, baking cakes and gathering eggs and nurturing the writers, while Nicholas soaks up their fawning adulation and murmurs self-aggrandizing self-deprecations.
Into this shallow paradise (Ewedown can be read as an anagram of wow, Eden) comes Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton), a former local who has gone on to London and become a successful magazine journalist. She returns minus a significant portion of the anatomy with which she departed. The girl who left sported a schnozz like Al Capp's Fearless Fosdick; the one who returns has had a nose job, and resembles the same cartoonist's Li'l Abner temptress, Moonbeam McSwine. Arterton herself is no stranger to the surgeon's knife; she was born with polydactyly, a surplus of fingers.
The loathsome Nicholas, a womanizer cut from the Hardy mold, has just dumped his latest young girlfriend and has managed to wheedle the saintly Beth into forgiving him yet again after a loud and public row ("I didn’t know they provided material, too," one of the writers overhearing it drily remarks.) When Tamara pays a call at the farm in her cheeky denim shorts, Nicholas turns his philanderer's eye on her. He's not the only one. A rock star, Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), falls hard for Tamara. And local hunk Andy Cobb (Luke Evans), the former boyfriend who dumped her in her big-nosed days, watches regretfully from the sidelines.
Tamara has come back to fix up and sell her family home. Before her family lived there, it was the Cobb house, where Andy was born and raised. The Drewes bought it when the Cobbs fell on hard times, and Andy, after failing as a designer, is now living nearby as handyman on the Hardiment farm.
Among the colony of writers in residence at the Hardiment's retreat is a dweeby American intellectual, Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp), who is writing a scholarly work on Thomas Hardy, and can't seem to get anywhere with it. He's sweet on Beth, but he's as socially maladroit as Nicholas is facile. When her encouragement inspires him to break out of his writer's block, Glen tells her exultantly "I wrote for three hours. I feel like a man who has just passed a gargantuan stool!"
Filling out the players in this dark pastoral comedy are two bored and hormonal adolescent girls, Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie). They spend their time reading fan magazines, spying on everyone from behind hedgerows and stone walls, and yearning desperately to be older. Jody has the hots for Ben, the drummer, and resorts to some unethical tricks to break up his romance with Tamara.
Tamara Drewe loosely follows the outlines of the original novel, but with a lighter touch, and absent many of the author's 19th century melodramatic turns. For Hardy fans, Tamara is the independent-minded beauty Bathsheba Everdene, Andy Cobb is the faithful Gabriel Oak, Ben is Hardy's dashing Sgt. Troy, and Nicholas fills the shoes of the prosperous farmer Boldwood.
Fans of the graphic novel will be pleased at the movie's casting. Many of the actors bear a striking resemblance to the characters as drawn by Simmonds. And everybody should be pleased as punch at the performances that bring those characters to life. Allam is self-satisfied and supercilious as the successful hack Nicholas, Cooper is broodingly handsome and childishly petulant as Ben, and Luke Evans furnishes Andy with romance-novel handsomeness along with strength, humor, and decency. The mellifluously-named and talented Tamsin Grieg very nearly steals the show. Arterton impresses more with her looks than her acting, but she has done Thomas Hardy before (Tess of the D'Urbervilles on BBC), and she does a nicely unapologetic job with Tamara, a morally uneven character who doesn't always command our sympathy.
Frears has taken Simmonds's graphics and translated them expertly to the screen, spruced them up with Moira Buffini's witty script, and employed Ben Davis's camera to paint a breathtaking picture of the rural Dorset countryside that was Hardy's Wessex. This being Hardy, there are some developments that carry a touch of the grim as the story whirls to a close. Frears keeps it a lot funnier than Hardy did, but Hardy no doubt would have been pleased with the long-limbed Gemma Arterton.
© Text 2010 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be