Tamara Drewe plays out like a filthy episode of Midsomer Murders, as if the characters had taken leave of their senses and started bonking behind hedgerows instead. Gemma Arterton plays Tamara, a former ugly duckling teenager from the dull Dorset village of Ewedown. Ten years on and she’s got a posh job in London writing for The Independent, a nose job and an overflowing sex appeal.
Returning to Ewedown, she sets village tongues wagging and hearts thumping particularly from her old ex-boyfriend Andy (Luke Evans), a shy farmyard hunk who realises that he’s still in love with her. Andy’s heart is about to be broken a second time when she interviews Ben (Dominic Cooper), a preening, egomaniac drummer from a successful rock band, who sweeps her off her feet and begins to live with her in the seemingly idyllic countryside.
Her arrival also sparks interest from Nicholas Hardiment, a successful author and unprincipled cad. Hardiment lives in the farmstead across from Tamara and together with his long-suffering wife Beth (Tamsin Greig), runs a writer’s retreat, an excuse for him to have his ego massaged by sycophantic fans while his wife runs around baking biscuits and he sows his wild oats during frequent trips to London.
Stirring up trouble are a couple of teenagers, Jody and Casey (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie), whose mischievous troublemaking and obsession with rock star Ben threatens to blow the lid off some of Ewedown’s most sordid secrets.
It’s wonderfully acted. Roger Allam in particular is pitch-perfect as the smug, self-satisfied Nicholas Hardiment; an unprincipled bounder out for what he can get and an unflinching liar, he practically oozes sleaze. Tamsin Greig as his timid wife Beth is in Hardiment’s words “a marvel”, encapsulating that particularly British way of talking excessively to cover awkwardness.
As excellent as these performances are, their scenes are almost stolen by the two teenagers. Their antics and banter is frequently hilarious and sets up many of the film’s dramatic set pieces, escalating from the harmless egging of cars to a new level of invidious intent when celebrity-obsessed Jody discovers that her would-be fantasy husband is living just around the corner.
It’s a sharply written film and a constant delight to watch, whether it’s the cringe-worthy scene in which hapless American writer Glen overhears a domestic argument whilst on the toilet, Hardiment’s food-laden sweary outbursts (“fuck supper!”) or Jody and Casey’s teenage oglings at trashy magazines (“What a lovely baby” “I’d love one that colour”). It manages all this without sign-posting the laughs and makes what appears could have been a very stiff visit to the countryside a hugely enjoyable romp.
Stephen Frears might not be noted for his humour, but he’s hit the nail right on the head with Tamara Drewe, an infinitely saucier version of The Archers and one of the best British films of the year so far.