Saturday, October 02, 2010

Tamara shocks them - far from the madding crowd.

Tamara Drewe is full of comic book characters – literally, of course, as it is based on a Posy Simmonds comic strip. So we should not complain that nearly every character is a slightly exaggerated depiction – which they are. In real life surely nobody could be such a serial philanderer as Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and think that he could get away with it. Or no wife could be as innocent and ignorant of her husband’s infidelity as Beth Hardiment (Tamsin Greig). Or no young woman could be quite as lusty and self-assured, wilful and flirtatious as Tamara herself (Gemma Arterton). But no matter the in-your-face nature of the characters makes for a very funny and rather impious movie which just about keeps going over its nearly two hours duration.

I, like most townies, have sometimes thought that I would enjoy life in the country. The country pub with the fine local ales and fresh food; the country lanes with the birds in the hedgerows; the fresh air and the simple life. What this mental idyll ignores, of course, is just how insular and rejecting of newcomers country communities are. The Hardiments have been in Ewedown, their fictitious Dorset village for twenty years – but they are still seen as parvenu newcomers by the locals. The returning local, Tamara, like her Thomas Hardyesque model Bathsheba in “Far from the Madding Crowd”, causes a sensation because of her re-imaging. The ugly duckling has had a nose job and become cosmopolitan – and she even dares to wear the shortest shorts that rural Dorset has surely ever seen! Tamara, like Bathsheba, is torn between three men all of whom desire her. Hardiment of course; Ben Sargeant, a rock band drummer brilliantly played by Dominic Cooper and handsome Andy Cobb who is the archetypical local man with strong arms - the “Gabriel Oak” figure, with a bouquet of “earth, dog, tobacco and engine oil”, and who strongly resembles Alan Bates in John Schlesinger’s the 1967 “Madding Crowd” film.

The film pokes gentle fun at the literary world. The Hardiments run a writers’ retreat which allows Nicholas to wallow in his fame as a successful writer and requires Beth both to look after him as well to cater for the guests with home baking and other country fare. Key to the unwinding of the plot are two feral local teenage girls, Jody and Casey, who make mischief in an undercover and puckish sort of way. Because of their interference all of the main characters become aware first of Ben’s steamy fling with Tamara and then of Nicholas’s affair with her. Tamara seems to sail through all of this without too many cares - but she leaves a couple of broken hearts along the way before, predictably, settling for Andy who turns out to have been her childhood love all along. The final scene is dramatic and violent and a rather rough justice is done – not all of the characters lives happily ever after. Indeed arguably none of them emerges unscathed from the story. The film is part romp, part morality tale and part mild social commentary. It is entertaining, well directed by Stephen Frears and is definitely a good promotion for the beauty of the Dorset countryside. The story is an amoral one – certainly by the conventional mores that well-bred country folk might like to assert they follow. But such pomposity and hypocrisy is rather nicely pricked – just like Thomas Hardy once did with his slightly shocking tale of nineteenth century double standards.


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