13 September 2010

Droll in the Hay- TAMARA DREWE Review

As poorly Photoshopped posters and numerous TV spots across the land have proclaimed, Tamara Drewe has Gemma Arterton in it. Surprisingly though, it's more about Nicholas Hardiment, a smarmy and adulterous crime novelist whose long-suffering wife (and skivvy) runs a writers' retreat in Dorset. They offer writers a respite, "far from the madding crowd."

That changes when the titular Tamara returns home, once an ugly duckling of sorts and now imbued with a nose job and new found sexual confidence. She turns the heads of many of the men in the village and more or less delivers chaos into most of the relationships around. A violent conclusion can only follow.

As when I saw Piranha 3D a few weeks ago, I came out of seeing Tamara Drewe thinking about Jaws. The simple reason is that although Arterton is great in the titular role, she's as much the main character in this as the shark is the main character in Steven Spielberg's classic. She doesn't appear until around 20 minutes into the film anyway, and she's only really the instigator in a number of more interesting stories.

We're supposed to come out of this comparing to the works of Thomas Hardy, with connotations that are very overtly lavished upon us throughout. But no, to me, it's Jaws. Our Quint, if you'll stay with me on this one, would be Nicholas, played superbly by Roger Allam. He's not exactly playing against type, but by God, you'll hate this bastard. But there's just the right amount of smarm, juxtaposed with Tamsin Greig's very well-pitched performance as his wife, to make you love to hate him.

Greig gives the same sort of restrained and downtrodden performance that Emily Watson did in Cemetery Junction earlier this year, and she becomes the heart of the film in a way that our supposed heroine doesn't. Arterton acts considerably better than a rubber shark, implementing a bizarre aura of naivete in Tamara. Femmes don't come much more fatale than her, and it's another nice touch.

However, her particular brand of inadvertent emotional terrorism sadly isn't anything like as interesting as that death-by-nom-nom summer that Amity Island endured. Because it isn't riotously funny, nor particularly serious, it's another film that fits best into the cushy Sunday night ITV drama type. A one-off that could be cushioned between Heartbeat and Midsomer Murders. On-screen graphics notify us of the change in season, presumably because the film just looks autumnal, all year round. It's bawdy and yet droll, and that's a mismatch that doesn't work.

The closest we really get to comedy beyond the one-liners and sight gags you've seen in the trailers- yes, they're all in there- comes with Jody and Casey. They're a pair of teenagers, played by Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie, who are so desperately bored in the village that they do despicable things in the course of the film. Jody's the more forthright of the two, and her particular brand of lovelorn delusion makes her a Tamara Drewe in the making. Barden plays it so well, she's actually a more interesting character than the original Tamara.

Disclaimer- Tamara Drewe isn't really Jaws. It's just one of a number of films I've watched in cinemas recently and wished I was watching Jaws instead. It's not a total loss however- there's some nice direction by Stephen Frears, some fantastic performances from all of the cast (especially Allam and Greig) and an unexpected receptiveness for what's essentially a Guardian reader's delight. It's a middle class sex comedy, but if you can reconcile those two factors with your own viewing tastes, it might be worth a look on a Sunday night.

Tamara Drewe is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Tamara Drewe, why not leave a comment on the film and/or my review? If you really have to see Gemma Arterton in undress without shelling out to see this, you still need to see The Disappearance of Alice Creed. Then again, the nudity isn't necessarily sexy in that film...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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