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Originally published Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'Tamara Drewe': Screen version is flatter than original graphic novel

A review of "Tamara Drewe," the film version of a fun, literary graphic novel by Posy Simmonds. Stephen Frears' screen version lacks the liveliness of the original.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review2.5 stars

'Tamara Drewe,' with Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Bill Camp, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, Tamsin Greig, Charlotte Christie, Jessica Barden. Directed by Stephen Frears, from a screenplay by Moira Buffini, based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds. 111 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexuality. Metro.

Some books, it must be said, work better on the page than on the screen — and what good news for the book industry that is. Stephen Frears' "Tamara Drewe," based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, is just such a property; the movie's perfectly decent but doesn't bring the sense of delicious, page-turning fun that the book has. And, with a graphic novel, it's hard to make an argument for a movie at all: The words and the pictures form a storyboard that plays in your head as you read, comfortably in bed late at night.

Much of the movie of "Tamara Drewe" looks just like the panels of the novel: The sunlight on the English countryside falls so perfectly it seems drawn, and many of the actors seem to have been selected partly for the interesting lines of their faces. The story's basically a contemporary pastoral romp, very loosely based on Thomas Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd" and set at a writers retreat in the picturesque town of Ewedown in England's West Country.

The title character (Gemma Arterton), a former local girl turned femme fatale, returns to town and creates a commotion; catching the eye of crime novelist Nicholas (Roger Allam), to the dismay of his wife, Beth (Tamsin Greig), who tirelessly runs the writers colony, and who inspires the sympathy of American writer Glen (Bill Camp) — who, as it turns out, is working on a book about Hardy. Meanwhile, a visiting rock star (Dominic Cooper) attracts both Tamara and some local teens (Charlotte Christie, Jessica Barden), and the farm animals stand around looking rustic, as farm animals should.

There are some lovely performances here, most notably Greig's sad-eyed, betrayed Beth. (We see the entire history of their relationship in a snapshot of Beth and Nick: He's looking at the camera, she's looking at him.) But the film lacks Frears' usual master touch; it often feels flat and self-conscious, in a way that the book never does. It's impossible to dislike a film so literary that a couple is hushed in mid-quarrel with the very accurate warning, "For God's sake, we're surrounded by novelists!" — but, this time, the book's far more fun.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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