Byline: David Sexton
TAMARA DREWE Cert15, 111 mins TAMARA Drewe is the very model of a modern British film. It's based, pretty faithfully, on Posy Simmonds's great graphic novel of the same name, about a stunner coming back to live in the Dorset village where she grew up, to wreak havoc on the locals. They include the inhabitants of a writers' retreat, presided over by lecherous, middle-aged crime writer Nicholas and his slavishly subservient wife, Beth; their hunky rustic handyman, Andy; and a pair of bored local teenage girls, Jody and Casey, who spy on everybody and meddle disastrously.
Simmonds is brilliant at depicting recognisable reality and caricaturing it at the same time. She includes far more text than most graphic novels and illustrates it not so much in a strip cartoon as in a series of tableaux, which use colour tactically. These pictures move easily between external views and internal imaginings, so you read the book knowing both how these people look to others but also how they appear to themselves. They're both substantial and not; the story's both involving and a joke. It's a triumph of tone, her own special version of style indirect libre.
Strictly speaking, as a fully realised work of art in its own right, both literary and pictorial, Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds needs no adaptation. It's not crying out to become a musical or modern dance suite, say. But the temptation to film must have been strong, both storyboard and dialogue being there already.
As it happens, the scriptwriter Moira Buffini has incisively tightened up the plot, eliminating certain elements altogether, extending others -- making Tamara's nose-job, which has rendered her so much prettier than she used to be, even more central to events, for example. Lots of Posy's killer lines have been retained -- matronly Beth saying of Tamara's hot-pants, "I hope they don't give her thrush" -- and equally good ones seamlessly added, for example the frightful literary shagger Nicholas telling his doormat wife: "We're like a pair of compasses -- joined at the top but with the ends able to explore ..."
All the crucial decisions were made in the casting (it's that sort of film). As Nicholas, Roger Allam has a saggy piraticism, a characterfulness that doesn't depend on physique, that allows him to dominate his menagerie and almost plausibly get into bed with Tamara. But Allam is essentially a stage and TV farceur, not a film actor, and his presence sets the theatrical tone of the whole ensemble. …