Based on a comic strip-turned-graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, and blessed with some of that medium’s zesty storytelling fluidity and smarts, Tamara Drewe is another fine example of the nimble cinematic artistry of Stephen Frears, still conjuring up vibrant and just left-of-center cinema at age 69. Not incidentally, the original material was based on Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, lending a layer of literary depth and insider references to the stew. (For something of a parallel in film, think of Polanski’s Tess; about a lovely young lass in a verdant countryside, with creepy May-December pairings and woozy social machinations in the wings.)
In this tale, a liberated, nose-jobbed, and sexually primed provincial young woman, Tamara Drewe (Gemma Aterton), returns to the English countryside she was raised in, perking up the senses and libidos of scribes at a quiet writer’s retreat, the interest of a scowling rock ‘n’ roll drummer, and the fate-twisting of two bored teenaged girls in town, whose intervention spices up the narrative within the narrative.
If a bit longish and meandering at times, the film adaptation generally comes alive and takes surprising detours, without frothing over. Wisely, the widely-experienced Frears brings to the challenging task a blending of his slicker style (Dirty Pretty Things, The Queen) and the scruffier stuff of his earlier films (My Beautiful Launderette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid), making for a film which, if slipping out of gear now and then, is an impressive invention from the artistic high-low country.