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Tamara Drewe

You don’t need to have read Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd to enjoy this, a sort of adaptation at several removes. British cartoonist Posy Simmonds used Hardy’s novel as the basis for a serialized graphic novel that ran for two years in the newspaper The Guardian. (She previously gave the same treatment to Flaubert with her modernized Gemma Bovary. So much for my ignorant belief that graphic novels were the territory only of zombies and superheroes.)

The title role is played by Gemma Arterton, the young British comic actress who went a bit astray as a Bond girl in Quantum of Silence. A former ugly duckling from a rural town, Tamara went off to London and found success as a columnist, largely writing about how rhinoplasty improved her life. Returning home to sell the family home after the death of her mother, she becomes an object of desire to those who remember her as she used to be as well as to those meeting her for the first time.

At least, that’s how the story starts. It centers around a writers retreat near to her house which is home to a philandering mystery novelist (Roger Allam), his tolerant wife (Tamsin Grieg) and a handful of amusing characters who soon disappear, save for an American academic (Bill Camp) struggling to finish a critical study of—you guessed it—Thomas Hardy.

But Tamara rather fades from the movie named after her, never disappearing but neither quite holding the dramatic center. Directed with customary capability by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons), Tamara Drewe shows the problems with trying to compress a thickly populated novel (graphic or otherwise) into a two-hour film. We’re drawn to all of the characters, but never quite satisfied by any of them. Hardy’s fascination with the details of rustic life and the dangers of the big city comes through to comical effect here, with the local farmers and the weekenders in a perpetual state of tension (“I don’t like cows,” sniffs one of the writers. “They exude bovine malice.”) It’s a film that is less than the sum of its parts, however enjoyable those pars often are.

m. faust

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