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Tamara Drewe

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Tamara Drewe

© Rex Features / c.Sony Pics/Everett

Gemma Arterton dons Daisy Dukes and shakes up a sleepy town in Dorset playing newspaper columnist Tamara Drewe. The Queen helmer Stephen Frears adapts the story from a cartoon strip by Posy Simmonds, but unlike other cartoon heroines, Drewe has no special powers besides those imparted by a killer body and hyper sex drive. Her exploits make for a cheeky comedy, but Frears's best attempt at 'fleshing out' the character means having Arterton climb a fence in those little shorts. It's a role requiring the ex-Bond girl to lay herself bare, mostly in the literal sense.

Drewe returns to her country home after making it big in the city and making her nose a lot smaller. This bit of plastic surgery gives her a whole new standing in the community (along with the aforementioned shorts), most notably among the men folk. They include childhood sweetheart Andy (Luke Evans) and older man Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam), a crime writer she idolised as a teenager, but who in reality is a pompous fool. Frears gets plenty of laughs out of Nicholas, who leads a workshop for budding scribes at his farmhouse. But it's Tamsin Greig who steals the show as his apparently simple country wife and actually, the real brains of the outfit.

Drewe is presented as a modern girl who knows what she wants. Except that she doesn't. The film plays like an Austen adaptation; she, caught between the awkward but well-meaning Andy and the toxic womaniser Nicholas. In fact, Simmonds was inspired by Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd, but it lacks the right kind of satirical edge to bring it properly up to date. Instead it just feels very silly, though not in a bad way. Dominic Cooper sums up the mood as a rock drummer who gives Drewe an unusually intimate one-on-one interview then proposes marriage. Things seem to happen in a whirlwind, threatening to leave viewers just as dizzy as Drewe.

Our heroine is supposed to be whimsical, but she remains too much of an enigma to elicit real sympathy. Actually, she risks being downright annoying when she starts an affair with Mr Hardiment, just as Andy is working up the courage to tell her how he feels. As the long-suffering Mrs Hardiment, Greig provides the real heart of the story and her struggle to reconcile her wifely duties with her hidden talent as an editor says more about modern womanhood than Drewe's bed-hopping. Greig is also more skilled at treading the line between comedy and tragedy, wafting through scenes with trays of freshly baked cakes, always on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Frears angles for moments of pathos later on in the story, but they fall flat because Drewe remains as two-dimensional as she was in the original cartoon. Fortunately, Arterton stays likeable in the role because she naturally conveys the girlish naiveté of Drewe even while she's behaving like an outrageous femme fatale. References to film noir aside, this is generally a bright and sunny tale, enhanced by a gorgeous West Country backdrop that Frears has managed to capture in romantic twilight. Ultimately, it comes across like the sort of twee, gentle-natured British comedy that would have been a better fit for Sunday night television. Pass the tea and scones.


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