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Time Out New York Project: Issue #784, October 7-13, 2010
Dir. Stephen Frears. 2010. R. 111mins. Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Bill Camp.
Strikingly picturesque locations and a terrific ensemble cast help this tonally inconsistent adaptation of Posy Simmonds’s comic series pass by with relative ease, though it leaves a very peculiar aftertaste. A present-day riff on Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, Stephen Frears’s film is set in and around a bucolic writer’s retreat, where a bunch of caricatured literary types — such as detective novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Allam) and introverted academic Glen McCreavy (Camp) — while away the hours in hack productivity or soul-crushing writer’s block. Then a muse appears in the comely shape of newspaper columnist Tamara Drewe (Arterton), an ugly duckling turned hiked-shorts beauty who’s arrived to look after her late mother’s estate.
Drama and some black, black comedy ensue. One narrative thread, featuring a sort of love triangle among Tamara, a pampered rock star (Dominic Cooper) and a smitten teenage fan (Jessica Barden), is frequently gut-busting. Another detailing the rivalry between Hardiment and McCreavy walks a bizarre line between farce and tragedy until it culminates in a WTF mad cow stampede. Credit Frears with keeping the mishmash somewhat grounded. He’s no stranger to the offbeat — see his great Joe Orton biopic, Prick Up Your Ears, for a more deft and successful example — but this one doesn’t play to his strengths.—Keith Uhlich