Dear friends and readers,
I hurried to write this blog in order to recommend Tamara Drewe before it disappears which I fear it’s about to. tonight I "discovered" Posy Simmonds. It’s her work that lies behind the film, Tamara Drewe:
A scene from Posy Simmonds’s Graphic Novel, Tamara Drewe
It’s worth it to take a few minutes to read this biography cum-interview. I lived in the UK and Posy Simmonds strikes me as an upper middle type that I met in British universities in the 1970s. Her humor and outlook are not commonplace but they well understood and appreciated in Britain. I’d call her a genuine modern artist. Edward Gorey’s books are genuine art and so are these satires.
No one seems to be going in my area. I did go to see it on Thursday, Thanksgiving day, but it was already playing only at odd hours in the theater. There were 4 people in the theater beyond me, and I was the only one to stay to the end. What I do in the rest of this blog is show the distance between Frears and Buffini’s film and Simmonds’s novel and their film and more romantic-sentimental costume dramas. Americans may still be mostly unfamiliar with Simmonds’s work and film adaptations are part of a somewhat art-y taste. Or they may not know Hardy. This film is, however, meant to speak to a somewhat wider or different audience than reads Simmonds or watches film adaptations on TV of older classic books, and perhaps that’s why it’s not drawing an audience.
So, unless I’m crazy or super-subtle, the film is a bitter satiric dramatization of the recently popular Lawrentian view of women & men in British cinema (most notable is Joe Wright, his P&P and with a little help from McEwan Atonement). Hardy too re-seen with strong ironies. Based on graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, free adaptation of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. It exploits costume drama. It’s the end that’s grimly exhilarating if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. Not that uplift is left out: after the cows and dog do away with the villain our much put-upon good and physically hard-working Hardy hero marries the heroine (Gemma Atherton played Tess in a recent TV adaptation).
Apart from superb performances (especially Tamsin Greig and Dominic Cooper), and the usual delights of costume drama too (landscapes, many cows in fields), and a sharp script, it sends up (satirizes) the way Hardy is presented through sexed-up readings of Lawrence (one character a Hardy critic). It’s a feminist hard-take on Lawrence — Hardy has been Lawrenced up in our century (by women too as in Mary Webb’s Precious Bane).
I wanted to write more in detail to show that the movie was a satire but when I tried to buy a copy of Tamara Drewe, the inexpensive copy I found was canceled. It had just been bought — so maybe the movie is not doing that badly. Thus I will content myself with saying that what happens in the movie is two of the male protagonists, the famous money-making writer of detective thrillers, Nick Hardiment (Roger Allam), and the famous rock star, Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper) are promiscuous bastards to women; the women are presented as either abject and living with it, Nick’s wife, Beth (Tamsin Grieg) or enamored and just thrilled with male genital sex, that’s Tamara Drewe (Gemma Atherto) who goes to bed with both Ben and Nick.
We begin at a writers’ commune which is held yearly by Nick and Beth Hardiment. It makes them money.
There are two nasty teenage girls, Jody Long (Jessica Barden) and Casey Shaw (Charlotte Christie) who are intense fans of Ben and live in the village where the writers’ commune run by Nick and his wife is situated.
They spend their time reading fan magazines and throwing eggs at passing cars. They also moon after macho males and one of them (particularly snide and filled with spiteful impulses) uses Tamara’s house to write emails from when Tamara is out of the house. The fans are trying to lure Ben to stay in this boring (as they see it) village where there is nothing to do, no place to go and the government has stopped even running public buses. These emails cause Tamara much trouble and help drive the story to disaster. Beth has to face that Nick is having an affair with Tamara after the teenagers send her a photo of Nick and Beth
; Tamara is accused of being promiscuous after the teenagers send an email from her address which reveals her to want sex with every man however he wants it.
The plot-design is a comeuppance for both mean males. Beth finally is going to leave Nick or throw him out and he is incensed at Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp), the Hardy critic living in the house who has encouraged her. Nick chases down this critic in the meadow to beat him up (macho male see) and by accident Glen hits Nick in a way that leads to NIck hitting his head hard on a steel trough. Glen is trying to move Nick when Ben’s dog now loose upsets a bunch of cows who stampede over Nick. Nick dies.
The third from the last scene of the movie show us Glen at the kitchen table with Beth. He will now stay and live there with her. She has been a great help to him in talking to him of his work as once she had been for Nick. The difference is he will reciprocate. He is a tender loving man who will not betray or hurt her.
The reason the poor dog was loose in the meadow is that Ben was trying to get back with Tamara (after he had left her flat for another idiot rock star who has deserted im). Ben had a promise from one of the teenagers she’d take care of the dog. Of course she ignored it. A near woman neighbor who hates this and all dogs for ruining livestock shoots and kills the dog.
Tamara has at least seen the "light" and what is a decent relationship and opts to go live with Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) the Hardy hero who the film opens up with: We see him throughout working hard with his hands and body as a carpenter and taking care of livestock for Beth; his family lost the beautiful home they once had to Tamara’s family. Now he is being paid to renovate it. He also seems to have decent feelings and care for Beth, he lives up to obligations, is kind. The second to the last scene of the film has the pair of them looking at the house Andy can now live in as house since Tamara will marry him.
The very last scene is one of the movie’s most explicit satiric scenes. The camera focuses on a male helplessly weeping. We don’t see him clearly at first, just his jeans and the crying and then we see it’s Ben. Why is he crying? He’s standing over the dog’s grave. We had seen this dog around Ben all movie long but had not realized that in fact Ben has some tender feelings if only for himself. The dog was an unconditional friend. Standing with Ben are the two teenage girls, one of them is posing crazily and egoistically twining herself around Ben. The other is taking photos of this imbecility.
Point made. If you didn’t get the film is a hard satire on the cruelty and absurdity of D. H. Lawrence’s ideas of what makes women happy and what men want, you can’t miss it now. I know that Mary Webb’s Precious Bane was mocked by Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, but what Gibbons mocked was the posing. She saw the Lawrentian outlook as simply absurd exaggeration, phony and stupid. Buffini and Frears see it as a manifestation of the worst aspects of male heterosexual sexuality when cruel cold aggressive men are allowed to follow their appetites unchecked. In this final scene and in Nick’s death we see these males are weak too, clinging to the very women they exploit and abuse, even to the point of these contemptible teenage fans.
The film laughs at the fans and shows them to be encouraged to be this way through the magazines and media they have available.
It shows the society around Nick encourages him: he makes huge sums writing these ugly books, he is adulated on TV and by fan clubs who come to the writers’ commune. By laughing this way and showing the society supporting these people’s behavior, it pities them and even Ben at the end. After all these two teenage girls have no future and Ben’s life is stultifying and we can see he has some intelligence. I’ve put all this harshly because from personal experience and observation I know what harm the Lawrentian beliefs and behavior coming out of that causes, some of which Frears and Buffini put before us using the motifs costume melodrama centering on the middle class allows. In her magazine Simmonds is said to be somewhat affectionate to her characters and exhibiting this sophisticated "cheeky wit." In the film Frears (I think) feels for Beth mostly; Glen is seen as a mostly cowardly academic critic (that in itself somewhat damning) but in the end coming through.