Gemma Arterton Displays Luminosity as ‘Tamara Drewe’

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CHICAGO – There are some movies that are gut level great because of plot, atmosphere and pacing, and then there are movies like “Tamara Drewe,” which rely on the elusive star power of the performer to drive its engine. Gemma Arterton portrays the title character and lights up the screen with a vivid presence in the simple story of a woman’s homecoming.

Based on a British graphic novel, Tamara Drewe is about a woman who used to live in a small country village in the UK, who comes home to take care of selling the family home after her mother dies. Her arrival stirs the circumstance in the otherwise dull area, as she is interrelated to several of her fellow villagers by past relationships, and she brings in another yet another character who causes a couple teenagers in town to spy on her.

The story opens at a writers retreat in the same village. We hear the various narratives flowing through their heads, serious and absurd. The retreat is facilitated by a vain hack writer named Nicholas (Roger Allam), successful with his mystery novels but repugnant otherwise. His long suffering wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) takes care of the inn’s inhabitants, including an odd Amercan named Glen (Bill Camp).

Enter Tamara, she literally climbs the fence into the writers’ lives, and causes a sensational with her new look. Apparently as a teenager she had a large nose, and her new face includes a surgically smaller nasal appendage. She is stunningly vibrant, drawing the attention again of an old lover and handyman at the camp, Andy (Luke Evans), and the serial adulterer Nicholas.

The situation becomes more complicated when the journalist Tamara covers a rock band at at local concert and connects with the drummer named Ben (Dominic Cooper). She takes him back to her mother’s home, and begins an affair. Little does Tamara know that a couple of teenage groupies of Ben (Charlotte Christie, Jessica Barden) are about to stake out her house, and infiltrate the relationship with intentions of getting Ben for themselves.

Over the Fence: Gemma Arteron as the Title Character in ‘Tamara Drewe’
Over the Fence: Gemma Arteron as the Title Character in ‘Tamara Drewe’
Photo credit: Peter Mountain for © Sony Pictures Classic

As all the relationships are mixed into the town, Nicholas and Beth go through another marriage crisis, the American Glen is about to intervene in that relationship and Andy is wondering if he can make one more play for the goddess that is Tamara Drewe.

The movie does literally stop every time Arterton graces the screen as Tamara. She is perfectly cast as the almost mystical influencer on everyone. She is the type of woman that even clothed can be viewed as unclothed, such is her sensual aura. Arterton imbues Tamara with a randy casualness that is even more beguiling – she puts a spell on everyone without even trying, which is the perfect narrative formula for mucking up the dreary village.

The story itself is rather flat-lined, with very few narrative peaks coming off Tamara’s return. There are flashes at the writer’s camp that something significant is about to go down, but the subplot of of Nicholas and his infidelities doesn’t resonate, and even with the comeuppance to come, there doesn’t seem like any oomph to that part of the overall scheme for the writers retreat couple.

The early promise of that writer’s retreat is never fully realized, as the focus shifts to Tamara’s return and the couple’s problems. The device of “hearing” their thoughts, as they wrestle with the writer’s craft, has potential to be a nice comic effect, but is left in the dust after the amusing introduction in the beginning of the film.

Dominic Cooper as Ben is a nicely written character as the drummer, who is somewhat confused by Tamara and her advances but enjoying them nonetheless. He has a great moment towards the end when he discovers the machinations of his teenage fans, acting tenderly and like an adult, despite his earlier indulgences as a typical rock star.

She Fell in Love With the Drummer: Dominic Cooper as Ben in ‘Tamara Drewe’
She Fell in Love With the Drummer: Dominic Cooper as Ben in ‘Tamara Drewe’
Photo credit: Peter Mountain for © Sony Pictures Classic

The direction of the notable Stephen Frears has glimpses of his previous Brit-in-the-countryside film, “The Queen.” The quietude around the fishes out of water, the writers, has the same reactive quality as Queen Elizabeth in retreat in the previous film. Frears is a fine craftsman, and the setting of the Tamara Drewe soap opera is quaint and exploited to the fullest advantage.

Although the story works out as an almost foregone conclusion, after a couple of transitional events at the retreat, it is Arterton that keeps the energy and focus on her centerpiece Tamara. In an interview with HollywoodChicago.com, director Frears was asked what he would say to Tamara if he met her in a pub. His answer: “I don’t know, I just think women should look like that. It just brightens the world up.” Enough said.

”Tamara Drewe” continues a limited release in Chicago on October 22th. Check local listings for show times and locations. Featuring Gemma Arteron, Roger Allam, Bill Camp, Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper and Tamsin Greig. Screenplay by Moira Buffini, based on a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds.
Directed by Stephen Frears. Click here for the HollywoodChicago.com interview with Tamara Drewe Director Stephen Frears

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2010 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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