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There did seem to be a lot of positive publicity surrounding the UK Film Council’s September release, which is showing this term at LU Cinema. After all, it had premiered at Cannes earlier in the summer, and the general public consensus was that it was more than worth shelling out the price of a bucket of popcorn for. It was hailed for being original, funny and most importantly, uniquely British. Now appreciation of it seems to have soured: it only has an average rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a quick Goggle search has brought up descriptions such as “hollow”, “all wrong” and “more than a little scattered”.
But at the time, everything that I had heard before I went to see Tamara Drewe had been in its favour. In hindsight, this positive reaction may have been mainly from men, and in relation to Gemma Arterton and her assets more than the actual film. Still, I was expecting a quirky, light-hearted, feel good comedy in the British independent film tradition.
What I was faced with was in fact a lack lustre, clichéd tale of a small town girl done good, arriving home and sending the neighbours into a frenzy because – shocker! – she’d got pretty, and then realising that the man she left behind is in fact the person she should be with. I’d apologise for spoiling the plot, but as soon as Tamara’s former lover Andy appears on the screen, it is clear how the film will end. Along the way to the inevitable conclusion there are some undeniably entertaining moments. Highlights include Tamsin Greig as downtrodden country wife, Beth. But there are flaws within her story too – after all that she puts up with (no spoilers here) I found myself rooting for her to end the film on a happy note that was never forthcoming.
Teenage schoolgirl Jodie is the definite highlight, providing a wry commentary on the village’s events and accurately rechristening Tamara Plastic. She and friend Casey (Charlotte Christie), along with Greig are far and away the most believable – and likeable – characters. Jessica Barden is a star in the making. Yet I still couldn’t help wishing for more of a plot. Aside from these stellar performances, Tamara Drewe herself appears as nothing more than shallow, self satisfied and uncaring. There is nothing whatsoever likeable about her, as she quite literally romps through the film in her denim hot pants, systematically seducing every male character for no apparent reason, other than that she can.
There has been a lot of talk about the film being quintessentially British, and there is no doubt that it does celebrate British culture. However, there is still an issue here. The majority of characters are simply so difficult to like that it hardly paints the British in a good light at all. I dread to think what impression of British journalists/writers/mothers those from elsewhere will get, if this film is being touted as the epitome of British rural life.
Pretty leads Dominic Cooper and Gemma Arterton do everything they can to bring life to their characters. Arterton arguably isn’t given much to work with in dull, moral-free Tamara, but Cooper fairs better in his portrayal of a grimy rocker with sensitive side Ben. Cooper does the best he can, as do most of the cast, but there are few moments that stick in the mind after you leave the cinema. One of the main reasons was that the film is adapted from a graphic novel, which in itself was taken from the cartoon strip by Posy Simmons that appeared the The Guardian between 2005 and 2006.
Tamara Drewe plays out more like a comic strip than the film it is attempting to be: lack of deep characterisation and a reliance on visual aids rather than plot are what it suffers from. In making the decision to translate a graphic novel to the big screen, it should have been realised that more depth would need to be added.