Hardy Worth the Effort: The Art of Posy Simmonds Does Not Adapt Well to the Screen
Gilbey, Ryan, New Statesman (1996)
Tamara Drewe (15)
dir: Stephen Frears
There's nothing inherently ignoble about classic literature being given a modern sprucing up. Forbidden Planet (The Tempest in space), Cruel Intentions (a teenage, trust-fund Dangerous Liaisons) and Clueless (Emma 90210) were affectionate interrogations of their source texts as well as vivid works in their own right. Now a makeover job has been attempted on Far From the Madding Crowd, but all you can think as you watch Tamara Drewe is: "Doesn't Thomas Hardy deserve better than this?"
Stephen Frears's broad and baggy comedy is an adaptation of an adaptation, taking off as it does from Posy Simmonds's Guardian cartoon strip, which followed the contours of Hardy's novel. In Bathsheba Everdene's stead there is the journalist Tamara (Gemma Arterton), who returns to the Dorset village of her youth following her mother's death. Saddled in her teenage years with a bookend nose and an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, she now at least has her proboscis in check.
Everyone is interested in the new-look Tamara, from the compulsively shirtless gardener Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) to the pompous novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), elfin drummer in a rock band. Tamara gets engaged to Ben after interviewing him for the Independent on Sunday - a turn of events that will exasperate those of us who really have interviewed musicians for the Independent on Sunday and never so much as played footsie with one.
The desire directed towards Tamara by the male villagers is understandable, so it's odd that, with all those perspectives to choose from, Frears should show her snug behind in a close-up that doesn't represent any character's point of view. He might at least have shown some decorum and pretended he was examining her curves through someone else's eyes. The film is partial to these disruptive short-circuits in continuity, which tend to suggest no clear editorial voice. Another one occurs shortly after Nicholas's wife, Beth (Tamsin Greig), learns of his affair with a researcher. Beth has a thought-bubble moment in which she summons the image of her rival in love, which is strange because she has never clapped eyes on the woman. …