The deadly sins of envy, lust and salacious gossip in deepest rural England provide the motor for Stephen Frears's black romp, featuring vivacious former Bond girl Gemma Arterton in the title role of the youthful scribe. Based on Posy Simmond's graphic novel it should find a loyal fan base from its source material lovers as well as admirers of Frears and Arterton. The prospects look rosy.
The countryside can be dangerous territory for unsuspecting urbanites that find themselves prey to heady emotions, deception, jealousy and marauding cows.
Stephen Frears' adaption of Posey Simmonds' colourful graphic novel (which in turn was based on Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd) presents a rural England of leafy lanes, rolling fields and thatched houses suffused in an idyllic glow.
Scratch the surface and look behind the hedgerows, though, and you will find a cesspit of dark deeds and evil thoughts, much of it unleashed by two precocious and bored teenage girls who, through email and text, create a web of intrigue around the unfortunate adults.
The title character, played by the effervescent Gemma Arterton, returns to her childhood village to sell up the family home after the death of her mother. She left as an awkward duckling and, after acquiring work as a journalist (and having some work done on her prominent nose), she has emerged as a stunningly beautiful career woman.
Her sojourn sees her start work on her autobiographical novel, picking up some threads with a youthful sweetheart who is now a handyman and gardener (Andy Cobb), and indulging in unlikely affairs with a rock band drummer (Dominic Cooper) as well as a more mature writer of pot-boiler thrillers (Roger Allam).
The writer and his much maligned wife (Tamsin Greig) run a small organic farm and host residential retreats for budding literary types, among them an uninspiring American (Bill Camp) who helps to pick up the pieces when plans go pear-shaped. The shenanigans unleashed would provide enough material for a dozen novels.
Frears agilely maintains the delicate balance between unadulterated farce and black comedy. He is served well by Arterton's vivacious Tamara and Cooper's leering rock star.
Simmonds' strip ran in a British newspaper between September 2005 and October 2007 before being collected into the graphic novel that took its inspiration from Hardy. The classic writer's dissection of English manners and mores was about a heroine and independent woman. Tamara Drewe certainly feels like a solid updating of that story, and we feel a sense of renovation particularly when Tamara confronts her various fates and suitors.
Frears, after the costume drama of Colette (I refer here to last year's Chéri), seems to be reenergized by Tamara's foibles, and perhaps has created a new genre: the contemporary pastoral comedy.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Bill Camp, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, Tamsin Greig, Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie
Director: Stephen Frears
Screenwriter: Moira Buffini
Producers: Alice Owen, Paul Trijbits and Tracey Seaward
Genre: Black Comedy
Running time: 109 min.
Release date: TBD