Review: Tamara Drewe
CHLOE MASHITER: ‘Tamara Drewe does, admittedly, have plenty of potential: a stellar cast, some well-observed writing, Dominic Cooper in eyeliner, and enough surprises to avoid being a by-the-numbers flick.’
Directed by Stephen Frears
Naively judging a film by its trailer, I thought Tamara Drewe would be a Richard Curtis-style series of inoffensive comical romps in the picturesque countryside: in short, as edgy as a sponge. Then I actually saw it. Adultery, death, stalkers, deception…and, yet, still less edge than a Cindies playlist.
It follows the love affairs of various over-sexed and under-loved villagers, catalysed by Tamara (Gemma Arterton) returning to her childhood home. Her process of choosing between broodingly sexy drummer Ben (Dominic Cooper); ruggedly sexy farmhand Andy (Luke Evans) and, ahem, author Nicholas (Roger Allam) is predictably roundabout and misguided, making the tentative romance between writer Glen (Bill Camp) and Nicholas’ wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) the far more watchable plotline.a Stirring all of this with the expertise of a Michelin starred chef is Jody, a jailbait headcase who makes Britney Spears look mentally stable.
The performances are all of a consistently high quality, with Tamsin Greig brilliantly combining Beth’s insecurity, naivety, hurt and anger. Cooper, Camp and Allam provide the vast majority of laughs with their respective self-indulgence, social awkwardness and utter lack of self-awareness. However, with only Camp being required to juggle both drama and comedy, you sense that for many of the talented cast this film is as challenging as a two-piece puzzle.
As for our eponymous heroine, she’s as appealing as a bout of herpes. Whether she’s arrogantly outlaying her future career plans, displaying zero guilt at repeatedly shagging a married man, or even – gasp – queue-jumping, Tamara comes across as an inherently unlikeable figure. Which would be no problem, if the film’s central plot didn’t require us to root for her happiness and fulfilment.
The film’s biggest handicap, though, is its severe case of cinematic schizophrenia, a result of the difficult transition from comic strip to film. Momentary flashbacks and fantasy sequences (15 year old wearing only a gossamer shirt about to be ravished by Dominic Cooper anyone?) might have worked well on paper, but are awkwardly redundant on screen. I suspect that Jody was quite funny when just a drawing, but seeing her ricochet between cartoonish nympho, childish stalker and damaged, fatherless schoolgirl the character comes across as completely misjudged. Lastly, the film makes the mistake of trying to juggle middle-of-the-road comedy and brutal drama (think Michael McIntyre doing Hamlet) and consequently succeeds at neither.
Tamara Drewe does, admittedly, have plenty of potential: a stellar cast, some well-observed writing, Dominic Cooper in eyeliner, and enough surprises to avoid being a by-the-numbers flick. But the cast’s talents are wasted, the writing inconsistent and the surprises outweighed by the predominantly pedestrian plot. It might just have reached its potential too, had the makers not forgotten about simply telling a story well. And all because they were too busy tittering at lines like ‘fuck soup.’