Madding Crowd

Stephen FrearsTamara Drewe (Sony Classics, 10.8) was easily my most unpleasant viewing of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. So the trailer has done prospective viewers a favor, I feel, by explaining where the film is coming from. The narrator’s insinuating cornball tone should suffice. If not, the pissing cow will.

I described the film last May as “one of those satires of a form (i.e., romantic fiction) that doubles back and has it both ways by satirizing and playing it ‘straight,’ or straight enough so that romantic fiction fans can themselves double-track by enjoying the cliches at face-value while having a good laugh or snicker. Everybody wins…except people like me.

“Boiled down, Tamara Drewe is (a) a comedy by a hip director that’s aimed (whether its backers admit it or not) at older chump-level couples and intellectually-challenged women of whatever age who read fashion and gossip magazines, and (b) a glossy calling-card movie by a director who’s getting on and would like the producers of crap movies to know that he can do ‘obvious’ and ‘unsubtle” as well as the next guy.

“It’s important to absorb Tamara Drewe in the right ‘insincere’ context. It’s first and foremost an adaptation of Posy Simmondsweekly comic-strip serial of the same name, which itself is a modernized, ‘insincere’ adaptation of Thomas Hardy‘s “Far From The Madding Crowd.” (Simmonds’ complete work appeared in hardcover in 2007.)

“Hardy’s novel was about three fellows vying for the affections of the beautiful Bathsheba Everdene (played by Julie Christie in John Schlesinger‘s 1967 film) — a brawny, whiskered man-of-the-soil type (Alan Bates), an older gentleman of property (Peter Finch), and a dashing mustachioed heartbreaker (Terence Stamp). A lot of horseshit happens, but she winds up with Farmer John at the end.

“Frears has the astonishingly empty and generally worthless Gemma Arterton playing Tamara Drewe, an updated Everdene who stirs the hearts and loins of three fellows when she arrives at a writers’ retreat in an English country village. (The film was shot in, around or near Dorset.) Tamara is a newspaper columnist who comes from the area, when she was mildly homely due to an enormous honker. Then she got a nose job, making herself into quite the beauty and yaddah yaddah.

“The Bates role is played by Luke Evans, the Finch role by Roger Allam, and the Stamp role by Dominic Cooper.

“All I could think as I watched was ‘what a piece of empty unfunny synthetic crap this is.’ The fact that it’s satirizing other works that are genuinely, sincerely and wholeheartedly crappy as opposed to being ironically crappy is of no interest to me. I only know that I was in pain.

“Frears is generally regarded as a first-rate director who lacks a particular visual or stylistic signature, and who goes where the material takes him. But I found it appalling nonetheless that the director of Bloody Kids, The Hit, High Fidelity, The Queen, Dirty Pretty Things, The Grifters, My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liasons and Prick Up Your Ears could make a film as icky and over-scored and postcard-vapid as Tamara Drewe, even with such values being rendered ‘in quotes.’”

32 thoughts on “Madding Crowd

  1. Dorothy Digital on said:

    Looks like Tamara’s another day.

  2. Hilarious trailer. “From the Stephen Frears, director of the Queen” “This summer get a little dirty in the country.”

    Glad I saw the trailer before going into it. Can’t believe it played Cannes.

  3. Frears has a lovely holiday cottage in Dorset. Therein lies his motivation for making this film. He’s a mercurial fellow who will absolutely have been wanting to ‘have his cake and eat it’ with this one. Take the piss out of the awful Richard Curtis genre whilst indulging his more base sentimental and pervy old man instincts.

    One can only hope that the recent implementation of a right wing Government in the UK will stir his socialist leanings and he’ll prove to have another decent film or two left in him. Maybe even on a par with the work he directed when Margaret Thatcher was moulding the country into a forum for greed, social division in the 1980s.

  4. I liked the overall film but was never impressed. Especially Arterton was a disappointment, this was her chance to show her acting chops. She failed. The movie leans too much on its supporting cast but the strange mix of elements is appealing for sure.

  5. Yeah, Wells is right on the money here. It’s strained, twee and terminally irritating — the kind of thing described as “quintessentially English” by people whose nearest experience of England is the Princess Diana memorial tea set a relative brought back for them from vacation.

  6. Eh, where was this article 5 days ago when I was trying to decide on Toronto selections.

    Oh well. Can’t win ‘em all. Does look pretty dreadful, though.

  7. Arterton in Disappearance of Alice Creed = oh my GOD. She’s both great in it, plus she’s naked constantly, and they show her (you know what) the ENTIRE movie, plus most of her closeups, she has smeared makeup and a gag ball…

    She’s hit or miss from one movie to the next, but I certainly don’t think she’s “worthless.” Harsh.

  8. “I hate the word “twee.” Just fucking hate it.”

    Yeah, it’s unpleasant, but it works because the word itself evokes the same reaction as what it’s describing. Like “cunt” being considered the worst of all the swearwords, mostly because of the sound of the word itself rather than the actual meaning. Otherwise “pussy” would be considered as bad.

  9. This is actually based on a graphic novel so I’m surprised no one has mentioned that it’s technically another comic book movie.

    Lex- so true I thought it actually was Hitch at first glance.

  10. Started my career working for one of big London producers and the really fucking irking thing is that this film will almost certainly make bank in the UK. Middle England LOVES crap like Calendar Girls and this. It’s probably a reaction to the urbanification and multiculturism that many English like to bitch and moan about.

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