Film Review: Hardy is finally funny in Tamara Drewe

When Thomas Hardy novels crop up in conversation, does anyone ever say, “wow, he’s one funny guy”? Could anyone possibly think Tess of the D’Urbervilles funny? Jude the Obscure? You kidding? The Mayor of Casterbridge did make me laugh, if only because it stands as the prototype for all self-respecting daytime soaps. Far From The Madding Crowd made me laugh when I was a kid, because like anyone else from the 20th century, I just couldn’t believe that the publishers would misspell a word in the title. Madding? What kind of word is madding? And why did no one ever correct it, allowing this error to persist year after year, decade after decade? That’s as much thought as I gave to
Far From the Madding Crowd. And as a novel, upon recent reflection, I think the creators of Desperate Housewives and countless other television shows owe a great deal to the gloomy Mr. Hardy.

One of the most wonderful surprises to spring from a Hardy novel is Stephen Frears’ new film, Tamara Drewe. Based on a graphic novel of the same name by Posy Simmonds, Frears’ film version of Tamara Drewe is fairly faithfully and hilariously grounded in
Far From The Madding Crowd. The film is brilliantly funny from the moment it opens. Any Hardy boy – and girl– would love and appreciate the film’s first shots, as the ruggedly handsome, earthbound hero, Andy Cobb (Luke Evans), chops wood on the Dorset farm owned by sleazy, unctuous hack writer Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and his loyal and dedicated wife, Beth (Tamsin Greig, from the great BBC series, Black Books). The Hardiments run a writers retreat, in the bucolic village of Ewedown, a pretty place in which “nothing ever happens,” according to the two teenage girls who stir up trouble just to pass the time. Something finally happens in Ewedown, as Tamara Drewe (former Bond girl Gemma Arterton) comes back to town to reclaim the farm she left years ago, leaving behind a successful career in London. Tamara brings home the affection of a bad-boy rock star drummer, Ben Sergeant (a hilarious Dominic Cooper), setting off a triple crown of rivalries, squabbles, jealousies, and general lousy behavior. It’s about time that Hardy so utterly entertains—whether in the form of a graphic novel or in a Stephen Frears film. Remember, Frears made The Queen—so his satirical and social bites are pitch perfect and wondrous.

Frears adapted the graphic novel, Tamara Drewe, into a film—he did not adapt Far From the Madding Crowd. What would he have done with the original Hardy novel? What would he do with another Hardy novel? If anyone could make Tess of the D’Urbervilles or
Jude The Obscure funny and enthralling, it would be Frears. But would those 19th century novels have to become 21st century Posy Simmonds graphic novels first? It should be noted that Simmonds also wrote a graphic novel called Gemma Bovery, based on another riotously funny novel with a similar title. Mr. Frears, when you’ve got a moment, pick up a copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Jude The Obscure—they could use a dose of your sensibilities.