Adapted from Posy Simmonds’ comic strip, which was itself a reworking of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd, director Stephen Frears’ wheezy romp sets forth a game of musical beds in one of those pastoral English villages where everybody’s all up in each others’ business—and knickers, too.
The alleged farce begins with the return of the title character. Once a horny wallflower with a bad nose, Gemma Arterton’s Tamara Drewe arrives from London much improved by plastic surgery and what must be a punishing workout regimen. Aiming to sell off her parents’ old farmhouse, Tamara strikes a few sparks with a former flame (Luke Evans) before alternating her affections between a ludicrous indie star (Dominic Cooper) and a hack novelist (Christopher Hitchens look-alike Roger Allam.)
A couple of rascally teenyboppers set about mucking things up for the adulterous adults, but there’s little at stake and even less forward momentum. Allam’s serial philanderer runs a rustic writer’s retreat, where his long-suffering wife (Tamsin Greig) does all the work to the adoration of an American Hardy scholar (Bill Camp).
For one of those movies where everybody’s spying somebody through a bedroom window and getting the wrong idea, Tamara Drewe is curiously short on energy. (There’s nothing here a little undercranked fast-motion and the Benny Hill theme couldn’t have spruced up.) Frears seems unsure as to whether he’s playing the material for laughs or for keeps, dwelling uncomfortably on Greig’s scorned-wife humiliation one moment, then crudely dispatching characters via a goofy cattle stampede the next.
A couple of half-hearted split-screens acknowledge the tale’s funny-book origin, but the project overall has a slapdash, good-enough-for-government-work feel to it. Arterton makes little impression as the sexpot around which this chaos pivots. She’s easy to look at, but otherwise blank—it’s hard to believe all these guys would go so crazy over such a dull gal.