Based on Posy Simmonds' beloved graphic novel of the same name (which was itself inspired by Thomas Hardy's classic Far From the Madding Crowd) this wittily modern take on the romantic English pastoral is a far cry from Hardy's Wessex. Tamara Drewe's present-day English countryside--stocked with pompous writers, rich weekenders, bourgeois bohemians, a horny rock star, and a great many Buff Orpington chickens and Belted Galloway cows--is a much funnier place. When Tamara Drewe sashays back to the bucolic village of her youth, life for the locals is thrown upside down. Tamara--once an ugly duckling--has been transformed into a devastating beauty (with help from plastic surgery). As infatuations, jealousies, love affairs and career ambitions collide among the inhabitants of the neighboring farmsteads, Tamara sets a contemporary comedy of manners into play using the oldest magic in the book--sex appeal.THE ART OF ADAPTATION HOME
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Tamara Drewe, the character, has undeniable appeal - but what appealed to Director Stephen Frears about Tamara Drewe the film script and graphic novel? "The script makes me laugh, it's very, very funny, and very sexy and a very contemporary, modern film. And doing an adaptation of a comic strip is terribly liberating. You can sort of do anything; it frees you up in the most wonderful way. Comic strips are normally Superman, or about superheroes, but this is a comic strip which is also intelligent and about things you recognise. I've never made a film like this; I had to completely rethink how I do things."
Producer Alison Owen recalls, "I saw the opportunity with Tamara to do an interesting independent film that had great characters, drama, comedy - but intelligent comedy - and also some social comment running through it as well."
A distinct element of serendipity surrounded Tamara Drewe's genesis. "I had been aware of Posy's work and always loved it," says Alison Owen (the graphic novel first appeared as a serial in the Guardian). "But it was only when Posy's publishers had the genius idea to publish Tamara as a full graphic novel that I suddenly saw the potential and thought it would be a fantastic movie. I had seen the book that weekend and then on Monday morning I found that literary agent, Anthony Jones, had sent me a copy, obviously having the same idea in mind. He had simultaneously sent a copy to Christine Langan (Creative Director of BBC Films), and then Christine and I bumped into each other at a Marylebone delicatessen, both of us with these big Tamara Drewe books in our little handbags! Christine and I both fell in love with it and the BBC wanted to develop it so that was a very easy set up."
Stephen Frears also fell immediately for the unique charm and challenges of Posy Simmonds' graphic novel: "My goodness, I knew it was original. Christine Langan sent it to me, and said, 'I've got something for you.' I was flying to New York and I opened the envelope on the plane. I couldn't believe what I was looking at. It happened like that with The Snapper. You can't believe what you've been sent. Very, very nice!"
This serendipity and the vibrancy of the source material continued to be an asset as Alison started to assemble her team: "Literally the first writer we sent it to was Moira Buffini and she wanted to do it. The first draft she turned in was wonderful. We did a little bit of tweaking, but pretty much sent that draft to our first choice - Stephen Frears, who wanted to do it straight away. So it was one of those points where you feel like God is with you, you know, the universe is on your side."
"Having had the challenge over the years of putting together many and varied types of productions, it's very rare and exhilarating when the stars align like this" adds Producer Paul Trijbits.
ADAPTING A GRAPHIC NOVEL
Another unique selling point and challenge in adapting Tamara Drewe was the fact that the film came with a readymade storyboard, in the form of Posy Simmonds' original graphic novel. For screenwriter Moira Buffini, this was more help than hindrance: "Visually you've got so much there, you just think, 'My goodness, it's a film'. She gives you so many clues to the character in her drawings. The characters are really well observed, all of them."
Frears too found having Posy Simmonds' illustrations as a reference point an aid: "It was very, very liberating. Literally there was a storyboard if you chose to think about it like that. Frequently we would do things and you'd look at it in the book and say - 'Well, I can't improve on that. It tells you everything you want to know.' Somebody before you has compressed everything down to a single image. It might be a complex image, but she's got it into one frame."
Production Designer Alan Macdonald, a regular Frears collaborator, continues the theme: "It's unusual for a designer to have a readymade storyboard, which of course works in my favour and against my better interests. Often Stephen will say, "Just look at the book," and then sometimes he'll say, "Just ignore the book!"
Key to the whole production team was that they didn't feel constrained to be too faithful to Posy's illustrations. Costume Designer Consolata Boyle: "You always go back to the source material because in it you find something wonderful, but obviously you need the space to interpret it as well because when the actors are cast, they are involved - their shapes, their feelings, their colouring dictate and you work around that as well. But I found the book and the illustrations a wonderful safety net."
Producer Alison Owen elaborates on this theme with regards to the casting process: "That's one example of the unthinking that you had to do. Actually a number of the characters did end up looking quite like Posy's drawings. Several exceptions looked nothing like them, and then there was that thought process of, 'Well, OK, we love the spirit of this person but they don't look anything like Posy's book; does that matter? Is it more important to capture the spirit? Can we conceive of that character in a new way, even though they're still embodying the essence of Posy's character?'"
And for the cast too, the graphic novel posed its own set of challenges. Luke Evans, who plays Andy: "I flicked through it the first time I got the book and immediately knew which character I was. It was quite weird! All the cast have had the same thing, where we've scanned through and thought 'blinkin' heck, I actually look quite like the character, they've done quite a good job!'... We've all got a bit of our characters in us, and that's magic, that's talent, for someone to have plucked us all out individually and found actors so accurately like our characters, physically, and to have mannerisms about us that relate to the characters."
For Tamsin Greig, too, the book proved a great help: "It's brilliant for an actor because it's like being handed your own storyboard. And Posy Simmonds is so good at those tiny nuances of expression which are really helpful. It's like having a 3D script, really, you're coming at it from lots of different visual and physical angles."
The form of the graphic novel also led to discussions amongst the filmmakers about how much to incorporate a comic book style in the look of the film. Alison Owen comments: "We did want to capture something of that, because there's something in the way that the material is rendered in pictorial form that has a very pleasant rhythm to it and adds an extra dimension that I wanted, if we could, to capture. Where I think Stephen has been fantastically clever - and I'm not nearly clever enough to analyse how he's done it - is that he has captured that rhythm without resorting to graphic novel devices. I thought, in my simple way, that it might be that we end up with names on the frame, or arrows, but, not 'KAPOW!!'. Stephen has not used any of those devices except a little bit of split screen here and there. And yet somehow it has that different rhythm. You do definitely feel that it's been adapted from a graphic novel; that it's got that cartoony, strip feel to it, that's somehow embedded intrinsically, rather than overlaid. Stephen's caught the spirit, not just of the material but of the form and the genre, and embedded it into the movie."
"I wouldn't make the film until I'd got the cast," says director Stephen Frears. "My casting director said to me, 'You're casting this before you've decided to make the film.' I said, 'Well, what do you think financiers do?!'"
Nowhere was the casting more crucial than in finding their iconic, titular heroine. Says Frears: "When I met her, Gemma Arterton did immediately remind me of the drawings because she's - well, she's so curvy, isn't she, she's like a sort of line drawing in her own way. She's a wonderful girl, warm and funny. I thought 'Oh, I'd like to watch her for 90 minutes.' I mean - as simple as that, really."
Producer Alison Owen: "Tamara has to be super-sexy, intelligent, a little bit lost, somewhat arch, she has to be able to play irony, and yet she has to make the audience feel empathy and want her to get together with the right guy at the end. Gemma seemed to magnificently embody all these characteristics in one. Stephen simply wouldn't make the film without her."
In finding their philandering author Nicholas, as Alison Owen recalls: "Stephen felt from the beginning that it would actually be illegal to make this film without casting Roger Allam as Nicholas! I mean that was always just a given. The first time I met with Stephen he said, 'Well obviously Roger's got to play Nicholas."
Frears had previously worked with Roger Allam on The Queen: "He's just wonderful - and somehow he's like a sort of baron. He's like the wicked villain in a pantomime! He's just a brilliant actor who hasn't really ever had a chance in films. Then I found Tamsin. And it was really only when I had those three - Roger, Gemma and Tamsin - that I thought I could make the film."
In casting their Beth Hardiment, Frears veered significantly away for the first time from Posy Simmonds' depiction: "Tamsin Greig didn't fit the drawing. But in the end you needed an actress who could be that witty and that touching. It's her ability to be wonderful in the right area was what clinched it, rather than whether they look like somebody."
Rounding out the triangle of Tamara's contrasting love interests are Dominic Cooper as rock musician and teen idol Ben Sergeant, and Luke Evans as Andy Cobb, the Hardiments' faithful handyman. Frears again: "We had a read-through before I agreed to do it and Dominic was so funny. And the girls just said, 'Oh, no, you MUST cast Dominic Cooper.' 'All right - whatever you say.' I just do what I'm told! He was in Mamma Mia. Teenage girls do kill for him! He's very, very believable. Luke was harder to find. And he's - he's wonderfully sort of rural."
Adds Alison Owen: "You could absolutely understand why all the girls would be crazy about Ben (Dominic); you can understand why Tamara in her state where she's a little bit lost would be slightly taken in by the veneer of all that's glitzy and glam about his character, only to find as the relationship chips away at that veneer, that what's underneath is not what she's looking for. And that's when her thoughts turn back to the guy, of course, that we've had our eye on all the way through, which is Andy (Luke), right from the first frames when he's drinking a bottle of water, we kind of know that he's the man of every girl's dreams."
More unfamiliar to most audiences might be American character actor Bill Camp, a revelation as Glen McCreavy, the writers' retreat's resident Thomas Hardy scholar. Says Frears: "Two people, one of whom was my son, the other Scott Rudin, said, 'Cast him - he's the best actor in America.' Literally, I didn't know who he was, and he hasn't been in many films, so there isn't a lot of footage that you can look at. My son says, 'When I direct a play, the first thing I do is work out who Bill is going to play and then cast the other people around him.' He's wonderful. You know, some days you're lucky."
STONEFIELD - THE WRITERS' RETREAT AND ITS INHABITANTS
"Stonefield is the writers' retreat run by Nicholas and Beth Hardiment," says screenwriter Moira Buffini. "But it's really Beth's brain child. Nicholas, her husband, is an author of bestselling, rather good crime novels, and Beth's project in life is nurturing writers. She's got her little small holding farm she looks after the hens and her little goats and she also looks after writers. Stonefield attracts all sorts of different writers; there's Glen, the academic who's come to do his quite highbrow book about Thomas Hardy. And then there's other writers who are just desperate to get published, like Tess, who writes romantic fiction, Eustacia who writes lesbian crime, and Diggory who's quite a well known poet but finds it difficult getting a wider audience for his work. They're all at it with Beth looking after them, making sure they drink enough, cooking them beautiful food, and generally helping their creativity." Read more
THE LOOK AND FEEL OF TAMARA DREWE
"The biggest challenge was finding Stonefield, the principal location for Nicholas and Beth," says Production Designer Alan Macdonald. "The house we found, Limbury, at Salwayash in Dorset is perfect as groundwork to embellish. But I felt it needed softening on the exterior. We put roses growing up the wall, we put a lot of planting around the garden, and we totally replanted a vegetable garden to hide much more formal hedges and planting. We are filming the end of the summer which we should have been filming six weeks ago! So we've had to add plastic colour everywhere, which of course works in our favour because it doesn't fade and won't wilt during the shooting. We painted the outbuildings, we've done up sheds, moved cows in, put up fencing... It's the kind of film where I feel the design is obviously very important, but at the same time I want it to have a totally naturalistic feel. The embellishment is totally harmonious with the natural foundation we found." Read more
WHAT IS 'A STEPHEN FREARS FILM'?
Stephen Frears' defining characteristic as a filmmaker is his ability to leapfrog from genre to genre to avoid categorisation. Once Stephen had decided to take on the film, his longtime producer Tracey Seaward began to assemble some of his regular collaborators. Tamara Drewe features a number of them - Mick Audsley (Editor), Alan Macdonald (Production Designer), Alexandre Desplat (Music), Consolata Boyle (Costume Design) and - from the cast - Roger Allam. Read more
STEPHEN FREARS (Director)
Stephen Frears is one of the UK's most critically-acclaimed directors who has worked with some of the world's best talent both in front of and behind the cameras.
Most recently he worked with Michele Pfeiffer in Chéri, based on the French novel by Colette, and Helen Mirren for his award winning film The Queen, for which Helen received the Academy's Best Actress Award and Stephen was nominated for numerous directing awards around the world, including an Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe. The film also became a box office hit after its launch at the Venice International Film Festival. Read more
THOMAS HARDY AND TAMARA DREWE
One of the central enigmas of Tamara Drewe is that while it is loosely inspired by Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd and is laced with classical allusions, this tale of a 21st century media girl trying to better herself is the most modern of tales. Screenwriter Moira Buffini relished the challenge of trying to capture and reinterpret the Hardy mythology: "I loved all of that. I did Hardy at college, I re-read Far from the Madding Crowd after I read Posy's book and I loved all of her allusions to it, I thought 'there's more, there's even more fun to be had.' So there's the scene when Ben Sergeant, the drummer, who is basically Sergeant Troy out of Hardy's book, seduces Tamara. And instead of doing as Sergeant Troy does with his sword play in that amazing scene in the film with Terence Stamp, I thought that would be really good fun if Ben Sergeant seduced her with his drum sticks."
(In John Schlesinger's popular and romantic 1967 version, Julie Christie played the beautiful protagonist, Alan Bates the loyal rural hero, Terence Stamp the dashing but dastardly seducer, and Peter Finch the love-besotted older man.)
Buffini adds: "In a general sense, Hardy makes that plot very serious and quite dark and just allows a happy ending. There's a wonderful comedy to be had if you take the same plot and just allow it slightly more comedy. Instead of all Hardy's farmers, the rural characters in the Hardy book which have dated and haven't stood the test of time, we've got Jody and Casey, the two little girls from the village who are like the Greek chorus of it all, and they too are great catalysts for action in the book."
Stephen Frears feels that the contrast between past and present are at the heart of the film's comedy: "Tamara and Gemma are both very, very modern, in these rather ridiculous rural surroundings that feel a bit like they're from another period, so it's that combination of the location and the modern attitudes." But at the same time he was determined not to be constrained by the allusions to Hardy: "If you make a film in Dorset, it's just there, you can't escape him, and I suppose somewhere down the line the whole thing is a sort of echo of Hardy or a pastiche of Hardy. But it's not relevant to us making the film - I'm not making a gloomy novel."
For Arterton herself, after coming off a number of period and fantasy films, a huge part of the appeal of Tamara Drewe was precisely to do something so modern: "Having done the Hardys before (she starred as Tess in a BBC adaptation of Tess of the D'Urbervilles) and reading the book over and over again whilst filming this, it's so different actually, it's SO modern. With Hardy everything tends to be quite exclamatory and they really say what the feel is. There's this part in Far From The Madding Crowd where she says, 'I'm your wife! You will love me! You will!' And it's really dramatic and Tamara would never do that! She's much more modern than that and she keeps it inside and that's really satisfying to play especially on camera. I think Hardy can be a little too much on film because they do exclaim everything."
Roger Allam also felt that Hardy-esque notions needed to be in the background in order to focus on the action at hand: "You're trying to find the tone and the style all the time but you can't really think about that. You can't really think as a character, 'Oh, I'm in a classic reworking, I'm a modern reworking of a classic story'. Although somewhere at the back of your mind there might be a consciousness of that but certainly not at the forefront."
For Dominic Cooper, the timelessness of the plot and characters are what gives the film such universal appeal: "The themes and the things that happen and the problems, the human problems, are all things that you could relate to in any time really. But, I suppose, it's modern in how it's set and the music that surrounds it and the ideas about it, which are very much today."
For Luke Evans, it was more a case of not letting himself be intimidated by the source material: "I'm aware of the influence of Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. I've seen the film, and I've seen Alan Bates. I try not to get too overwhelmed by his performance, and to think 'Oh God, I've got to try to be like Alan Bates!' But it's a great story, and you can see how it's mirrored in this film." The very first shot, of hunky Andy chopping wood while romantically backlit, wittily underscores the period/modern tension as he reaches for a plastic water bottle.
The last word on Hardy comes from Tamsin Greig: "I think all stories are echoes of another tale and I try not to think about that. I just try and focus on what's happening now, but with a sense of, 'You know what? We've seen this all before, this is a tale well told many, many times before. Because we're human beings and we're a bit rubbish.'"
POSY SIMMONDS (Novelist)
Posy Simmonds is best known for her weekly cartoon strip which ran in The Guardian from 1977 to 1987. The collected cartoons were published as Mrs Weber's Diary, True Love, Pick of Posy, Pure Posy and Mustn't Grumble. She was Cartoonist of the Year in 1980 and 1981 and in 1998 was overall winner of the National Art Library Illustrations Award. Gemma Bovery was published by Cape in 1999 to great critical acclaim.
MOIRA BUFFINI (Screenwriter)
Moira's screenplays include Jane Eyre directed by Cary Fukunaga, which is currently in production, and she is also working on a screen adaptation of her play A Vampire Story for Number 9 Films. Her latest play Welcome to Thebes opens at the National Theatre in June 2010 directed by Sir Richard Eyre. A revival of her award-winning play Gabriel opens at the Atlantic Theatre, New York in May 2010. Winner of the LWT, Whiting and Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Moira's other plays include Dinner, nominated for an Olivier Award, Dying For It, Loveplay and Silence. She is currently writer in residence at the National Theatre Studio.