Tamara Drewe   

by director Stephen Frears

When I first heard about Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel Tamara Drewe, I was on a plane to New York. Christine Langan (one of the film's executive producers) had said to me “I've got something for you” and had sent me a script. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. It was funny and sexy and very refreshing. I immediately fell in love with the unique charm and challenges of the novel. I found adapting a comic strip was terribly liberating. You can sort of do anything; it freed me up in the most wonderful way. Comic strips are normally in my experience about Superman, superheroes, but Tamara Drewe is a comic strip which is also intelligent and about things you recognize. I've never made a film like this; I had to completely rethink how I do things. It was also a tremendous aid. You could choose to think about it like a story board. Sometimes we would look at the book and say, “We can’t improve on that. It tells us everything you want to know.” Posy Simmonds has compressed everything down to a single image. She’s got it into one frame. It was sensible to live with what she’d drawn.

Because I thought it important to get the film right, I wouldn’t agree to make it until I’d know I could cast it. Apparently this is unusual. My casting director said, “You're casting this before you've decided to make the film.” I said, “What do you think financiers do?!” Nowhere was the casting more crucial than in casting Tamara. When I met her, Gemma Arterton immediately reminded me of the drawings because she’s so curvy; she’s a sort of line drawing in her own way. She’s a wonderful girl, warm and funny. I thought “I’d like to watch her for 90 minutes.” Simple as that, really.

The English don’t make films about the middle classes. And they don’t make films about the countryside. When they are, they’re mainly period films. So I suppose this is a modern pastoral comedy. This is a slim genre. A Midsummer Night's Dream is a pastoral comedy, Tom Jones you could call a pastoral comedy. They just don’t exist—contemporary films set in the English countryside like this. Immediately I could see it was unlike anything else. I’m very pleased at how funny it is. It makes me laugh, it’s very funny, and very sexy and a very contemporary, modern film.

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