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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Tamara Drewe' features too many unlikable characters

Special Photo: Sony Classics
 Gemma Arterton plays the title character in 'Tamara Drewe." 

Special Photo: Sony Classics Gemma Arterton plays the title character in 'Tamara Drewe." 

Tamara Drewe (R)

2 stars out of 4

Distinctly and unapologetically British, director Stephen Frears’ adaptation of the Posy Simmonds comic strip (based on the Thomas Hardy novel “Far From the Maddening Crowd”) tries at once to be a comedy and a drama and is only a little bit of each.

Unlike the similarly toned “Cold Comfort Farm” or “Howard’s End,” “Tamara Drewe” wants so bad to be risqué, nasty and deep, yet plays it too safe and never really kicks into high gear.

Following up her riveting turn in “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” Gemma Arterton again plays the title character, a part more akin to her throwaway ornamental performance in the recent action dud “Prince of Persia.”

After an extended hiatus, Tamara returns to a secluded, rolling hills hamlet and moves back into the home left to her by her late mother. Previously a bookish teenager with no confidence and an abnormally large schnozzle, Tamara makes her entrance wearing a sleeveless tank top, a pair of barely-there Daisy Dukes shorts and a perfectly bobbed nose. It’s clear Tamara has reinvented herself and is out to both impress and get back at those who previously insulted and shunned her.

Tamara’s quaint but spacious estate sits adjacent to one like it owned by the very successful crime novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and his wife Beth (Tamsen Greig). Full of himself with a long track record of philandering, Nicholas is always able to soothe the borderline naïve Beth’s feathers after the end of his affairs but we can see she’s reaching her breaking point.

In addition to being Nicholas’ editor and advisor, Beth runs a writer’s retreat out of their home where fledgling scribes come for inspiration, to discover a muse or cure their writer’s block. Most of them are untalented but have yet to figure that out. The only interesting one is Glen (Bill Camp), an American who is as frumpy as Beth and takes an almost inordinate level of interest in her failing marriage.

Upon arrival, Tamara (also a writer) rattles the otherwise sleepy town and in one way or another gets under every man’s skin. There to make enemies, she more than accomplishes her task, but didn’t count on two local teen girls getting into mix, one of whom has an obsession-level crush on Ben (Dominic Cooper), a heavy mascara-wearing rock drummer who fancies Tamara.

In adapting another adaptation, Moira Buffini’s screenplay bears next to no resemblance to the Hardy novel and feels more like one of those lame BBC sitcoms that air Saturday nights on PBS — but with sex and profanity. Speaking of which; while the sex and nudity is mostly implied, the language isn’t and could be a big turnoff to the target audience — mature female PBS viewers.

Usually much more comfortable with his material, Frears’ tentativeness only makes the script come off weaker and unrealized. The filmmakers also give us no one to root for or rally around. Every character save for Beth and farmhand Andy (Luke Evans) brings with them varying degrees of unlikability and even while we’re feeling sorry for Beth we halfway want to smack her for being such a wishy-washy doormat. (Sony Classics)