The director of The Queen, My Beautiful Laundrette & more talks about new movie Tamara Drewe
Stephen Frears first found international success in 1984 with The Hit, and in the years since then has tackled a diverse range of films. These include My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, The Hi-Lo Country, High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things, Mrs Henderson Presents and The Queen.
His latest is Tamara Drewe, based on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel which itself was loosely inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. Featuring Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia), Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia!), the movie tells the story of Tamara Drewe as she returns to the Dorset village where she grew up.
Having left as an awkward teenager she has transformed into a smouldering femme fatale with a glamorous job and a new nose, kicking up a storm of envy, lust and gossip wherever she goes. Torn between two lovers Tamara is the ultimate modern girl but her story of love and confusion is timeless.
Did the appeal for making Tamara Drewe simply come from the graphic novel, or the Dorset setting you evidently know so well? “I thought it was funny and sexy, but the truth is after a time you start to realise how complex things are. One of the unconscious things might well have been to do with Dorset. I’ve learnt a lot about the countryside, so I’m sure that was all going on in my unconscious in some way.”
Did the fact you were making a film from a graphic novel, which must have therefore acted like something of a storyboard, help or was it a constraint? “I found it incredibly liberating. To me the whole thing was about celebrating Posy, so what you wanted to do was honour her drawings. That was a real pleasure.” How do you go about matching the locationswith the vivid places Posy described in the graphic novel? “You start looking for places and looking at the book more closely, then you start to understand where Posy has taken liberties, that she’s actually describing something that you’ll never find. I said to her ‘where did you set it?’ and she’d actually set it north of Castle Cary, a place called Lamyatt near Shepton Montague. She said she was staying in a particular house and I asked if there were trees round the house and she said there were but she took them away. The truth is, as you start to work, you realise what really matters in this case is access to cows. That there should be cows at the bottom of the garden. Most people build houses with trees round them, to protect themselves and have some privacy, but you couldn’t do that you had to find somewhere that was accessible to the fields, where they backed up right against the house.” You’ve said that the experience increased your admiration for a particular type of French film, the sort that we don’t really make over here, haven’t you? “The British don’t make films about the middle classes. I was conscious that Chabrol, and the French, make films about the middle classes, and that French directors like Pagnol and Renoir made films about the countryside. I like all of that, for silly reasons, because nobody else does it. So you’re immediately doing what nobody else does. That also enables you to get out of bed, and it just doesn’t bore the backside off everybody.” Did the opportunity to include some Thomas Hardy references in the story appeal to you greatly? “It didn’t interest me very much, no. I think it was Moira Buffini, the screenwriter, who was most enthusiastic about Hardy. I could see that it was about a woman and three men, I could see the obvious connections. The idea of nature suddenly appearing and just trampling all over people, I could see all of that.” Does the fact Dominic Cooper has so recently been seen in Mamma Mia! enable you to cast an unknown like Luke in a leading role? “I know this sounds ridiculous but I didn’t know that Dominic had been in Mamma Mia!, nobody told me. I was even more innocent than you imagine. The casting director said he wanted Dominic Cooper, so I thought fine.” And how about casting Gemma Arterton, on the back of so much high profile work? “The truth is, to this day, that I’ve never seen Gemma in anything, I think I might have seen a few minutes of Tess and my wife said she was very, very good.” Has it already led to an influx of similar projects – not that you’d do them knowing your taste for change? “Presumably people in that position know that I don’t like repeating myself, that I’m completely capricious about what I choose. So I’m not bombarded with other pastoral novels.”