English comedies – intelligent ones, anyway – don't come much cheekier than Stephen Frears's "Tamara Drewe." Bucolic countrysides provide much of the setting for a story replete with loamy farmers, tweedy authors, puffed-up philanderers, saucy maidens, meddlingly precocious pre-teen girls, and ga ga rock stars.
It's all taken from a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds (scripted by Moira Buffini) that's loosely modeled on Thomas Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd." The only thing missing is John Cleese and his funny walks.
Tamara is a renowned London newspaper columnist who returns after many years to her childhood home and promptly sets its men aflame. She was once a wallflower with a large nose but a nose job, plus outfits on the distinctly skimpy side, have changed all that. As Gemma Atherton plays her, Tamara is a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Jezebel.
Frears, who has a marvelous feeling for eccentricity, keeps all of the wiggy characters in play. He’s even good with the non-British types. My favorite was the American academic (Bill Camp) who has the woolly look of a perpetual grad student and is working on a book about – yes – Thomas Hardy.
Erotic comedies are often attempted but rarely realized. "Tamara Drewe" is proof that sexy and funny need not be mutually exclusive. Grade: B+ (Rated R for language and some sexuality.)
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