CANNES, France (Reuters) - Lust, scandal and adultery are at the heart of British director Stephen Frears’ entertaining adaptation of “Tamara Drewe,” showing out of competition at the Cannes film festival.
Based on a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds which itself is a loose retelling of Thomas Hardy’s classic “Far from the Madding Crowd,” the film shows the havoc wreaked in a quiet English village when the devastating Tamara arrives.
The film is a rare piece of light entertainment among the array of heavyweight auteur cinema on show in the rest of the festival but Frears, a former jury president at Cannes, appeared unconcerned that it was not included in the main lineup.
“It’s not in competition because it simply didn’t seem appropriate and also I didn’t want to lose,” he said. “These are serious people here and it’s very, very cheeky to turn up with a film like this.”
Ex-Bond girl Gemma Arterton plays the former local, now a successful London journalist transformed by a nose job, who returns to sell her late mother’s house and ends up staying to work on her first novel.
Stirring a commotion when she appears among the denizens of a genteel writers’ retreat clad in a brief red singlet and a disturbingly small pair of shorts, Tamara is soon the object of fascinated speculation by one and all.
“Gemma came to see me and she sat down beside me and I said to my casting director, ‘Is she any good? Because if she is, book her,’” Frears said.
“What else was there to say? She was clearly very gorgeous, she was clearly very witty and she was nice, warm, likable.”
With its light-hearted take on the sentimental turmoil Tamara’s arrival causes, the film strikes a rather Gallic note despite its setting in the lush Dorset countryside.
“It’s quite an unusual film to be able to make in England. In a sense it’s got more of a French sensibility than an English sensibility,” said co-producer Alison Owen.
Successful author Nicholas Hardiment, played by Roger Allam, his wife Beth, (Tamsin Greig) visiting American academic Glen (Bill Camp) and hunky gardener Andy (Luke Evans) are all in one way or another under Tamara’s spell.
An encounter with Ben, a handsome but stupid rock star played by Dominic Cooper, transforms the situation but stormy passions lurk not far from the surface.
Apart from Arterton and Cooper, another up-and-coming young actor, there are no big film names in the rest of the cast, although Tamsin Greig is familiar to many in Britain as the voice of Debbie Aldridge in the radio series “The Archers.”
But Frears had warm words for his cast and in particular for the two teenagers who play local schoolgirls Jody and Casey, spying on Tamara in a fury of hormonal rage and envy.
“These two girls just took off,” Frears said of the former unknowns Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie. “We just stood around with our mouths open, we were so impressed.”
The pair, who spend their days at the bus stop lustfully reading gossip magazines and dreaming of getting away from the “bumhole of the world” provide a mordant commentary throughout and round off the film in a final moment of teenage exuberance.
Editing by Steve Addison