Tamara Drewe: Interview with director Stephen Frears

Tamara Drewe Tamara Drewe

Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen) is the director of "Tamara Drewe," starring Gemma Arterton. The film, which is an adaptation of the famous Tamara Drewe character as well as a graphic novel, is being released October 8 by Sony Pictures Classics.

Attraction to the project
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.” 

On the influence of the graphic novel
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!” 
Frears 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.” 
“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 his 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.” 
The uniqueness of Tamara Drewe
Stephen Frears himself remarks on what, for him, was unique about Tamara Drewe: “I can’t ever answer the question, ‘What kind of film is it?’ I say, ‘Oh, it’s a pastoral comedy.’ Well, you know – A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a pastoral comedy, but there aren’t a lot of them around. The English don’t make films about the middle classes. And when they are, they’re mainly period. I suppose you’d call Tom Jones a pastoral comedy but it’s because it’s so drowsed in history. They just don’t exist – contemporary films set in the English countryside like this. So you could see immediately it was unlike anything else. I’m very pleased at how funny it is – though I can see it deals with sort of dreadful things! And I can only apologise! I’ll bet I’m the only man in the world who can do a cattle stampede in Dorset!” 
Past and Present
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.”