Hardy har-har!

Tamara Drewe was her Dorset village’s ugly duckling when she left to make her mark in London. “There was always something desperate about Tamara Drewe,” says Nicholas Hardiment (Allam), a best-selling author of crime novels and the illustrious proprietor of Stonefield, a writers’ retreat adjoining Drewe’s mother’s property. Glen McCreavy (Camp), an American academic writing a book about Thomas Hardy, calls bucolic Stonefield “paradise.”

When Tamara returns, paradise gets lost. It is not her success as a journalist that makes men drool but Tamara’s nose job, which has transformed a pathetically plain girl into an energetic vamp. “She’s completely different,” gushes her childhood crush, Andy Cobb (Evans), the hunk who now serves as Stonefield’s handyman. It is remarkable what clearing the sinuses can do for one’s libido. Already a philandering cad, Hardiment takes Drewe to bed, as does a scuzzy rock drummer named Ben Sergeant (Cooper). So does handy Andy. Two starstruck teenage girls, who usually alleviate their boredom by throwing eggs at passing cars, spy on the proceedings and cause considerable mischief by tampering with Drewe’s laptop. Things get quite busy in Stonefield, providing its aspiring, eavesdropping authors with plenty to write about, hopefully something less banal than the screenplay for Tamara Drewe.

With sprightly background music instructing us that this is all uproarious fun, why am I so glum? This is a film that might produce titters but barely a tad of incisive mirth. Based on a comic strip turned into a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, itself a very, very loose adaptation of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, Tamara Drewe is a piece of fluff that lacks wit or taste or point. “I simply pander to popular taste,” says Hardiment, explaining his success to a group of literary wannabes. And it is hard not to lament that Stephen Frears, the deft director of The Grifters, My Beautiful Laundrette, and The Queen, is now trying to do the same. The pastoral English landscape is a pleasure to look at through the four seasons the story spans, but if there is any enlightenment to be gained from weathering this predictable parade of randy cartoon characters, it might be merely the opportunity to enrich one’s lexicon with such pungent British slang as wanker and scag.

If there is anything resembling a theme in the proceedings, it is the clash between truth and falsehood. Hardiment, a charming imposter who has made a fortune from the gullibility of readers and a comfortable domestic arrangement from the forbearance of his wife, confides that: “The real secret of being a writer is learning how to lie.” McCreavy, the plodding pedant whose books hardly sell out (even if he eventually does), replies with a quotation from Samuel Johnson: “The basis of all excellence is truth.” Too bad Tamara Drewe missed that point. •

Tamara Drewe
Dir. Stephen Frears; writ. Moira Buffini, based on a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds; feat. Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Bill Camp, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans (R)

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