When journalist Tamara (Arterton) returns home to bucolic Ewedown, Dorset, having made good and having had a nose job, her arrival sets off a tsunami of gossip, lust and jealousy in admirers including local hunk Andy Cobb (Luke Evans), rock star Ben Sergeant (Cooper) and novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Allam).
There's a suitably chucklesome opening to this smart comic fable of follies — adapted by Moira Buffini from the Posy Simmonds graphic novel very loosely inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. At a writers’ retreat in Hardy country a group of aspiring authors perch around house and garden penning projects in a multiplicity of genres. Each of them is neatly sketched in individual voiceovers of their paragraphs in progress.
From here there are multiple points of view in which none of the characters know what we know, apart from a keen Hardy scholar (unsung American actor Bill Camp, outstanding as the observer of events). All one can do is sit back and enjoy the foolishness unfolding and heading towards catastrophe.
Gorgeous, pouting Gemma Arterton’s Tamara is a columnist for The Independent (in which the film was defensively tagged an “Aga saga”, although only one character, Beth, Tamsin Greig’s long-suffering wife of Nicholas, sets foot in a country kitchen to do any cooking), but Miss Drewe doesn’t seem to do much work, so busy is she exercising her sexual confidence and emotional confusion. The muscular yokel who was her childhood sweetheart blew it in their youth so he’s out. Isn’t he? Roger Allam’s pompous crime writer in mid-life crisis doesn’t stand a chance. Does he? Still, he yearns and ogles away while Tamara’s “interview” with Dominic Cooper’s bad boy musician swiftly turns into a bonk-fest and improbably blissful co-habitation in the country, as long as Tam obligingly defers to the petulant popster’s monstrous ego.
This development brings to centre stage Ewedown’s two most bored teenagers, Jody and Casey (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie), whose mischief-making ascends to a new level of malevolence when celeb-obsessed Jody discovers her idol and fantasy future husband living under her nose and Tamara’s roof. Never mind hell having no fury like a woman scorned. It’s the 15 year-old stalkers one should be really worried about.
While not particularly noted for mirth, director Stephen Frears is more alert than many would have been to the inherent social comment and darker aspects of the goings-on. He lets the wicked turns and dialogue do their job without semaphoring, “This bit’s going to be funny.” It’s all the wittier, and at times downright touching, for not being done too tongue-in-cheek.
Think The Archers with a sprinkling of trendier folk and a lot more shagging. Very intelligently funny, with stellar performances.