The British countryside is not all green wellies, cowpats and beer gardens. A cursory glance at TV or books reveals no end of nasties lurking in the woodshed, vicarage cakes laced with deadly mushrooms and duels at dawn over sabotaged marrows. Fortunately, there are no end of country detectives who do their bit to lock away a sizeable proportion of village populations, who have devised ever more dastardly methods of doing one’s neighbour in. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never ever go to a village fete. But, if you must, avoid the archery competition and the chutney tasting. Living in Oxfordshire as I do, only a short distance from some of the country’s most picturesque villages, not to mention the dreaming spires themselves, I am grateful to Inspectors Morse, Lewis and Barnaby for keeping me safe in this lair of vice, murder, scones and real ale.
Upon seeing the trailer for Tamara Drewe, I must admit to some rolling of eyes. Here we go again, I thought. Darling Buds of May with Gemma Arterton instead of Catherine Zeta-Jones (when she was Welsh) mixed with Midsomer Murders. And it is indeed true that throughout the film I would not have been surprised if Inspector Barnaby with trusty Sgt Troy had been loitering in the boozer, primed and ready for yet another murder. The opening shot of a handsome man chopping wood while shirtless didn’t hurt. The story itself laid down all of the groundwork for a Sunday evening murder mystery – an old inhabitant, now beautiful thanks to a new nose, arrives back at her family home, within binochular range of a farm full of novelists bickering away at a writers’ retreat. Tamara Drewe may be there to sort out her cottage with the attention of selling it, but her primary aim is to stir things up and wreak vengeance on those who did her wrong on account of her hooter.
It soons become clear that, on the surface at least, there’s not a lot to do in the village of Ewedown. The adults get round this by baking cakes, breeding chickens, writing murder mysteries (that should come easy) and sleeping with everyone they shouldn’t. The children cope by loitering in busstops (there are no buses), chucking eggs at passing cars (easily done as there are only two a week) and dabbling in things they shouldn’t. It’s no wonder then that Tamara Drewe and her hotpants stirs things up and this is only compounded when Ben (Dominic Cooper), a famous drummer who can drum with his toes (see clip below), falls for Tamara and moves in with his yellow porsche and big dog.
Just like the village, on the surface, the film appears light, beautiful and a little naughty. This is the world of butter adverts. But about half way through, I took a step back from the film and realised that these butter commercial cows were not quite as they seemed and that Tamara Drewe wasn’t even the heroine. The heroine of Tamara Drewe is Beth Hardiment (Tamsin Greig), the long suffering (and extremely handy around a farm) wife of successful crime novelist and all-round weasel Nicholas Hardiment. And Tamara, who shows herself to be no better and no more likeable than anyone else in the village, becomes the catalyst that will enable Beth to be free. There are also no heroes. Even the best of them shows himself to be no better at the end.
Gemma Arterton is gorgeous as Tamara Drewe and she holds everything together by being so enjoyable to watch on the big screen. After Clash of the Titans (oh dear) and Prince of Persia (admittedly my attention was elsewhere), it is very good to see Gemma show what she is made of and that it is well worth seeing a Gemma Arterton-led movie, just as her TV appearances (Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Lost in Translation) have been memorable. There are rumours she may reappear in Clash of the Titans 2. I’m hoping that won’t happen – she’s already died in it once.
Dominic Cooper revels in his portrayal of Ben, right down to the flick of the hair, the smudge of the eyeliner and his inability to open a gate. He makes a very believable heart throb for the two young bored troublemakers who are played with excellence by Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie. Luke Evans is the official handsome lead but his character is so two-dimensional he cannot become interesting. His barmaid fling is a much more intriguing character. Roger Allam, the sleazy novelist, would not be out of place at all in a Midsomer Murder mystery, although it’s unlikely his character would survive the first advert break. Tamara is irresistible. She also has the depth of a leaky bathtub. All of the emotion is in Beth.
Tamara Drew is a comedy but like all the best comedies it has tragedy to it. It’s Beth’s story wrapped up in a blanket of marshmallows and chocolate, heady wine and that beautiful English countryside. And it had quite an extraordinary red carpet to boot.