I have to admit I was a little prejudiced towards Stephen Frears' last film, Tamara Drewe which is released on Blu-ray today. For every good review (like Peter Bradshaw's intriguing write up in The Guardian in which he likened the film to a particularly salacious episode of The Archers), there was a nagging doubt based on several, admittedly superficial, factors. First among these was the horrible trailer in which a character says she doesn't need a boy... she needs a man, a line which never actually appears in the film. Then there were the posters, which generally just displayed Gemma Arterton in hot pants, resting on a fence in a bright and cheerful Dorset setting. It seemed bland and cosy, with these efforts to promote the film actually selling it short, giving little indication of the loose morals, black comedy and violent tragedy that actually lay within. Tamara Drewe is based on a newspaper comic of the same name by Posy Simmonds, and sees Tamara (Arterton), an attractive young journalist, return to the quaint village of her youth in order to sell her family home. However, she soon disrupts the equilibrium of the village with her beauty, and with her new rock star boyfriend (Dominic Cooper). The original comic was a reworking of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd - a fact that the film pays homage to with frequent references to Hardy's life and work, via a socially awkward American academic (a touching underdog played by the quietly effective Bill Camp). The film actually is pretty solidly entertaining, with the characters really winning me over. They seem like broad archetypes from the outset, but reveal more depth and complexity as the film goes on and, by the its climax, the film has taken many unexpected dramatic turns and shunned many established conventions. For example, the adultery of Roger Allam's pompous author is not able to completely undermine the love of his wife played by the brilliant, show-stealing Tamsin Greig - at the film's unexpected and visceral conclusion. Likewise, a less interesting film would have seen the good boyfriend (the boring Andy, played by Luke Evans) getting one over Dominic Cooper's indie hellraiser Ben, but again this never really materialises. Here are performances of disarming depth and subtlety. Gemma Arterton is a perfect fit for Tamara, imbuing her with all the required bitterness and insecurity just underneath a surface of superficiality. The film also features some brilliant child actors with Jessica Barden being the affording her character a degree of emotional complexity and depth that goes beyond a comic exterior she gives the funniest performance in the film. Like the enigmatic, femme fatale herself there is more to Tamara Drewe than meets the eye and you may find yourself rewarded by giving it a go and overlooking the unappealing marketing.
Speaking of which, the films horrible theatrical trailer is included on the disc, but don't let it put you off the movie. Also included is a short red carpet-based making of documentary, which runs at just under half an hour. This feature is rather superficial, but it does include brief interview segments with Frears and the majority of his cast. The American disc has a commentary track with Arterton and Evans, as well as two other documentary features, so were being given the inferior version here in the UK which is especially disappointing given that this is a British film. The trailer and doc given ensure that this Blu-ray is pretty much a vanilla offering. Tamara Drew is released on Blu-ray in the U.K. from today.
A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, GamesIndustry.biz and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.