Film of the week

Tamara Drewe (15)


A crackling pocketful of Posy

Whenever a film announces itself as based on a graphic novel, you tend to brace yourself for a whirlwind of bloody violence and death – From Hell, Sin City, Watchmen, Kick-Ass, and the rest. Tamara Drewe, adapted from the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, is rather different. It does feature scenes of violence: two adolescent girls lob eggs at a passing car (twice). And towards the end even death comes calling, when a character is trampled underfoot by a stampede of frightened cows, and a dog is shot by a hunting rifle. But that's your lot.

The world of Tamara Drewe is more interested in life than death, in particular middle-class rural life as experienced by the sort of people who read The Independent and The Guardian, where this comic saga first appeared in serial form. Do not be deceived by the apparent somnolence of its setting. Beneath the genteel clink of teacups and the cackle of geese bubbles a cauldron of adultery, resentment, longing, jealousy and sexual abandon. "The goat's come into heat" is a sentence that will always have more than one meaning in this milieu. In a pictorially perfect Dorset village, Beth Hardiment (Tamsin Greig) runs a writers' retreat and turns a blind eye to the philandering of her crime-writer husband, Nicholas (Roger Allam). But she finally loses it when his latest infidelity gets found out: "For God's sake, we're surrounded by novelists!" he hisses at her before storming off to London. "Kind of a sleazebag, huh?" suggests Glen (Bill Camp), an American academic struggling with his book on Thomas Hardy. "We call him a prick round here," replies Andy (Luke Evans), gardening hunk and handyman.

The atmosphere has no sooner settled than it's disrupted again by the arrival of Tamara Drewe, incarnated by Gemma Arterton with voluptuous curves, sizzling hotpants and a nose job ("Love the new hooter!"). Once a gawky teenager in the village, she has returned to sell up the home of her late mother, and soon has the menfolk in her thrall. Andy, her former boyfriend, is smitten all over again and volunteers himself as her gardener, but he hasn't much hope once boorish rock-star Ben (Dominic Cooper) razzes up and parks his Porsche in Tamara's drive. His arrival likewise inflames a pair of disaffected schoolgirls whose avid attentions will create mischief for all concerned.

Fans may be inclined to see the adaptation of the book as a piece of cake – organic Victoria sponge, possibly. After all, Posy Simmonds's wonderful drawings provide film-makers with a readymade storyboard, not to mention the minutest details of facial and physical expressiveness. The most important responsibility facing director Stephen Frears was to secure the right cast, and he hasn't failed it. Gemma Arterton has something of a line drawing about her figure already, and brings to the title character an enchanting mixture of shrewdness, ambition and vulnerability – just what you need to write a girl-about-the-countryside column for The Independent (don't remember her at the Christmas party). Roger Allam is less physically like the book's Nicholas, but he inhabits every other irksome part of him to a T. The complacent tone of voice in which he mollifies Beth ("You're a marvel") and the relish he takes in his minor literary celebrity are both eerily right. When he casually condescends to Glen ("How goes the opus?") you wince for the poor academic and his hugely unpromising book. Simmonds's work is piercingly brilliant on writers in general – their love of gossip, their competitiveness, their sensitivity to slights – and the film honours it assiduously, sometimes in direct quotation. Nicholas holding forth before his coven of literary ladies, for instance: "All the girls gathered there like cups round a teapot" (though it's sad to see Cheryl Campbell among them, barely getting a word in edgeways).

The screenwriter Moira Buffini hasn't tinkered much with the book's dialogue, on the sound reasoning that the original could hardly be improved upon. Perhaps I was too impatient to get back to Tamsin Greig's put-upon meekness and Allam's enthralling vileness, but the younger characters, as in the book, seem to me less compelling. Dominic Cooper is suitably uncouth in eyeliner and tight trousers as Ben – "the drummer from Swipe" – though the idiot rock-star has become a stock figure of comedy. His teen idolaters Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie) are also little pocketfuls of Posy in looks and language; I loved the former's fantasising about a boyfriend with "lush pecs... but also respectful." But I found a little of their boredom and petulance went a long way.

The film is not entirely slavish to the book, however. While it keeps the original's rhythm, splitting into four seasons, it streamlines the narrative and tidies up the ending. Buffini's script deviates slightly, but most profitably, in enlarging the character of Glen and humanising his droopiness. ("I am a real pantyhose," he tells us early on in the novel). Bill Camp, a stage actor in the US and hardly known at all here, invests him with a wistful, almost Chekhovian spirit of longing, which we are made to hope will be rewarded. Thomas Hardy, the presiding influence on the book, is only a spectre here, and mostly by coincidence: Arterton played Tess in a recent TV adaptation. Frears and co are less beady, more indulgent than Posy Simmonds, and that's all right. Tamara Drewe is no less an adaptation for being such an open goal. Even with the safety-net of all those great illustrations it could have missed its mark. Lucky for us it didn't.

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game