Tamara Drewe is the kind of film that inspires words like "lark" and "romp." A minor work from sometime major veteran director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity), this British pastoral comedy is based on a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds that is itself based on Thomas Hardy's 19th-century novel Far From the Madding Crowd, about a young beauty juggling three suitors.
The titular beauty here — played by recent Bond girl Gemma Arterton — is a onetime ugly duckling who has returned home to her rural English village with a life-altering rhinoplasty and a snazzy job as a London newspaper columnist.
When Tamara arrives — climbing over a split-rail fence clad in a tight tank top and even tighter short-shorts that barely contain her — its sends the men in town into a believable tizzy.
Though Tamara's triumphant return to her native hamlet is a catalyst for much of the plot, the film doesn't entirely revolve around her. Title aside, the most crucial character in this ensemble piece may be Beth (Tamsin Greig), the long-suffering wife of smug, philandering crime-fiction writer Nicholas (Roger Allam), with whom she hosts a writer's retreat at their country home adjacent to the Drewe estate.
Among the figures on the scene are a nebbishy American academic (Bill Camp), who is working on a book about Hardy and develops a crush on the mistreated Beth, and the hunky handyman Andy (Luke Evans), a local who shares a past with Tamara. Further complicating this mix of personalities is sullen rocker Ben (Dominic Cooper, having great fun here after his terrific small role in last year's An Education), an interview subject whom Tamara has lured to her town and to her bed. And rounding out the core cast are a pair of local teens (Charlotte Christie and Jessica Barden) who act as something of a comic Greek chorus — lusting after Ben, resenting Tamara — before forcing themselves into the action, snapping cell phone pictures all the way.
Though taking place over the course of a year, Tamara Drewe has the feel of one of those weekend party films, in which a bunch of disparate characters are thrown together at an isolated location and forced to deal with various complications.
The film doesn't really amount to much. The satire here is mild and on the surface, the performances are broad, and the cartoon-rustic atmosphere is reminiscent of Babe without that film's dry wit. But the film is ably directed and ultimately quite agreeable, with Greig providing a useful point of audience identification and Arterton providing the visual spectacle her role demands.
Ultimately, Tamara Drewe is a decent bet — and nothing more — for grown-up moviegoers who want something light but (sort of) smart and with a little sex in it.
Opening Friday, December 3rd