Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tamara Drewe

It's fairly simple: Where there's peace and quiet, you need a fog-horn scandal. Where there's a social camaraderie, one needs moral gravity. Where there are secrets and lies, there has to be an epiphany, a breaking-point, most importantly, a conflict. Ewedown, an idyllic little English countryside village where writers retreat to seek inspiration, peace and quiet might seem like the perfect cup of coffee served with an unswilled dollop of cream, fresh enough for a little bit of chocolate sauce to turn it into a flavour pot. The sauce comes in the form of Tamara Drewe, a swell-looking urban beauty fresh from a very successful nosejob, who has come back to the house where she grew up, in order to try and sell it off. Apparently, the younger Tamara happened to be a shy village girl, conscious of her pug-nosed appearance, while still garnering some sympathizing love both from a childhood friend, Andy and an older, adulterer-extraordinaire, Nicholas, a famous suspense author in his own right who is now managing the writer's retreat along with his wife Beth (Tamsin Greig), a long-time sufferer of her husband's devious ways.
Into this little community, fits Glen McCreavy, an insecure american who is waiting for a breakthrough in his writing career, at a pretty late point in his life. Glen is accomodated as a guest in Nicholas' retreat, which in itself seems more than capable of providing enough insipiration to start writing.
So into this pastoral oasis of calm drops in our eponymous Miss Drewe, all urbanised and devoid of shyness, charged with sexual aura, poised to short-circuit any feeling of innocence in this village. To complicate things, there are two local school girls, Jodie and Casey, that hang around in the bus stop shelter. They are the eyes and the ears of the town. They know more for their young years than most of the older folks. Jodie and Casey will ultimately create such havoc in the lives of the older people, no one would suspect by looking at their innocent demeanor. Their sole aim lies in getting to meet (maybe even bed) the local rock band’s drummer, Ben Sergeant. And when Ben gets involved with Tamara in a passionate affair, he is unwittingly drawn into the village, igniting the hopes if the girls and setting forth a snowballing chain of events, which soon ends up with pretty dire consequences. The final scene is dramatic and violent and a rather rough justice is done – not all of the characters lives happily ever after. Indeed arguably none of them emerges unscathed from the story. The film is part romp, part morality tale and part mild social commentary. The story is an amoral one – certainly by the conventional mores that well-bred country folk might like to assert they follow. But such pomposity and hypocrisy is rather nicely pricked – just like Thomas Hardy once did with his slightly shocking tale of nineteenth century double standards.
Director Stephen Frears has been making interesting cinematic choices for over twenty years and is well versed in comedy, so is well at home setting the tone, flitting between frothy and bawdy, but there was more to the source material than that and thankfully Frears isn't afraid to explore some of these darker areas as well, bringing a more genuine sense of emotion in the process. While not quite as dark as the original story, there's enough here to give serious balance, and the result is a rather rewarding concoction that might leave you smiling or pondering, but should certainly leave you satisfied.
There was superb characterisation by a first rate cast in a subversive story that played with the stock characters that stories in English villages always have and made some real points about what is happening in these communities and about peoples lives and how selfish actions and jokey 'messing' can have big consequences in other people's lives.
There are some issues affecting rural England, like rich city flock buying houses and making villages too expensive to live in and boredom for young people: but it is hardly a political piece.

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