Tamara Drewe review (Blu-ray)

Once a country girl, Tamara Drewe (Arterton) went to London to make her fortune and got a nose job and a newspaper column. Now, following her mother’s death, she’s back in the Dorset village where she grew up. Tamara’s presence shakes things up for everyone, and the result is a funny, frothy take on small-village British life, where much of what goes on occurs because people are bored, and passion and scandal simmer away beneath a postcard-perfect veneer.

Tamara hooks up with Ben Sergeant (Cooper), the broody drummer from indie band Swipe, while also attracting the attention of farm hand Andy (Evans), who has somewhat scuppered his chances by dumping her many years ago, pre-nose job. The other main players are philandering crime novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Allam), who runs a writers’ retreat with his put-upon wife, Beth (Greig); American writer Bill Camp (McCreavy), a serial attendee of writers’ retreats who’s currently suffering from creative block; and schoolgirls Jody (Barden) and Casey (Christie), a pair of Swipe groupies who provide some of the film’s most droll moments while hanging out, bored, at the local bus stop.

Most of the people we meet in Tamara Drewe are trying to find themselves in some way. The writers at the Hardiments’ retreat are torn between admiration for those among their number who have been published and bitter, furious jealousy. Nicholas Hardiment, the successful writer and thus the subject of this envy, is busy making a pig’s ear of his personal life – not to mention a total fool of himself, while Tamsin Greig puts in one of the strongest performances in the whole film as his long-suffering wife, who’ll leave you wanting to kick the screen in frustration at the shit she puts up with.

Stephen Frears’ film was adapted from the comic strip by Posy Simmonds, itself a loose reworking of Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, which is alluded to with the odd amusing aside in the film. But you won’t need a grounding in Hardy to enjoy or appreciate Tamara Drewe. It’s the kind of film that’s near-impossible to categorise. It’s not a romance, or a romp, exactly, though there is some shagging. It’s certainly comical, in the most deliciously dry way – just watch the scene where Bill hides in the toilet, eavesdropping on the Hardiments, or listen to the writers politely sniping at each other – and it’s kind of a drama, which then turns into a Greek tragedy, but there isn’t a neat label that sticks.

When the film screened at Cannes, it inspired comparisons such as Midsomer Murders, or The Archers – but filthier, or The Archers – as written by Martin Amis. But Tamara Drewe is a little more subtle than that, and a lot more endearing. Its dramatic climax comes as a huge shock, appearing to take the film in a darker direction, but really it’s the culmination of much that has been building throughout. Hugely enjoyable and not quite like anything else you’ve seen, this is one of the best British films of the year.

EXTRAS ★ Red carpet arrivals at the film's London premiere (22:05); and the trailer.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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