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Dear friends and readers,

I hurried to write this blog in order to recommend Tamara Drewe before it disappears which I fear it's about to.  tonight I "discovered" Posy Simmonds. It's her work that lies behind the film, Tamara Drewe:

A scene from Posy Simmonds's Graphic Novel, Tamara Drewe

It's worth it to take a few minutes to read this biography cum-interview.  I lived in the UK and Posy Simmonds strikes me as an upper middle type that I met in British universities in the 1970s.  Her humor and outlook are not commonplace but they well understood and appreciated in Britain. I'd call her a genuine modern artist. Edward Gorey's books are genuine art and so are these satires.

No one seems to be going in my area.  I did go to see it on Thursday, Thanksgiving day, but it was already playing only at odd hours in the theater. There were 4 people in the theater beyond me, and  I was the only one to stay to the end.  What I do in the rest of this blog is show the distance between Frears and Buffini's film and Simmonds's novel and their film and more romantic-sentimental costume dramas.  Americans may still be mostly unfamiliar with Simmonds's work and film adaptations are part of a somewhat art-y taste.  Or they may not know Hardy.  This film is, however, meant to speak to a somewhat wider or different audience than reads Simmonds or watches film adaptations on TV of older classic books, and perhaps that's why it's not drawing an audience.

Our heroine, Beth (Tamsin Grieg) offers food to Glen (Bill Camp) the live-in Hardy critic 

So, unless I'm crazy or super-subtle, the film is a bitter satiric dramatization of the recently popular Lawrentian view of women & men in British cinema (most notable is Joe Wright, his P&P and with a little help from McEwan Atonement).  Hardy too re-seen with strong ironies.  Based on graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, free adaptation of Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd.  It exploits costume drama.  It's the end that's grimly exhilarating if that's not too much of an oxymoron.  Not that uplift is left out: after the cows and dog do away with the villain our much put-upon good and physically hard-working Hardy hero marries the heroine (Gemma Atherton played Tess in a recent TV adaptation).

Apart from superb performances (especially Tamsin Greig and Dominic Cooper), and the usual delights of costume drama too (landscapes, many cows in fields), and a sharp script, it sends up (satirizes) the way Hardy is presented through sexed-up readings of Lawrence (one character a Hardy critic).  It's a feminist hard-take on Lawrence -- Hardy has been Lawrenced up in our century (by women too as in Mary Webb's Precious Bane).

Dominic as Ben, our rough, tough rock star: he is more attached to his dog than you realize til the ending

I wanted to write more in detail to show that the movie was a satire but when I tried to buy a copy of Tamara Drewe, the inexpensive copy I found was canceled. It had just been bought -- so maybe the movie is not doing that badly.  Thus I will content myself with saying that what happens in the movie is two of the male protagonists, the famous money-making writer of detective thrillers, Nick Hardiment (Roger Allam), and the famous rock star,  Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper) are promiscuous bastards to women; the women are presented as either abject and living with it, Nick's wife, Beth (Tamsin Grieg) or enamored and just thrilled with male genital sex, that's Tamara Drewe (Gemma Atherto) who goes to bed with both Ben and Nick. 

We begin at a writers' commune which is held yearly by Nick and Beth Hardiment. It makes them money.

There are two nasty teenage girls, Jody Long (Jessica Barden) and Casey Shaw (Charlotte Christie) who are intense fans of Ben and live in the village where the writers' commune run by Nick and his wife is situated.

They spend their time reading fan magazines and throwing eggs at passing cars. They also moon after macho males and one of them (particularly snide and filled with spiteful impulses) uses Tamara's house to write emails from when Tamara is out of the house. The fans are trying to lure Ben to stay in this boring (as they see it) village where there is nothing to do, no place to go and the government has stopped even running public buses.  These emails cause Tamara much trouble and help drive the story to disaster.  Beth has to face that Nick is having an affair with Tamara after the teenagers send her a photo of Nick and Beth

Tamara and Nick's affair as seen in Simmonds's graphic novel

; Tamara is accused of being promiscuous after the teenagers send an email from her address which reveals her to want sex with every man however he wants it.

The plot-design is a comeuppance for both mean males.  Beth finally is going to leave Nick or throw him out and he is incensed at Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp), the Hardy critic living in the house who has encouraged her. Nick chases down this critic in the meadow to beat him up (macho male see) and by accident Glen hits Nick in a way that leads to NIck hitting his head hard on a steel trough.  Glen is trying to move Nick when Ben's dog now loose upsets a bunch of cows who stampede over Nick. Nick dies. 

Nick dead, Tamara waiting

The third from the last scene of the movie show us Glen at the kitchen table with Beth. He will now stay and live there with her.  She has been a great help to him in talking to him of his work as once she had been for Nick.  The difference is he will reciprocate. He is a tender loving man who will not betray or hurt her.

Tamara (Gemma Atherton) with Ben

The reason the poor dog was loose in the meadow is that Ben was trying to get back with Tamara (after he had left her flat for another idiot rock star who has deserted im).  Ben had a promise from one of the teenagers she'd take care of the dog. Of course she ignored it.  A near woman neighbor who hates this and all dogs for ruining livestock shoots and kills the dog. 

Tamara at last seeing the light:  Andy

Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) our Hardy hero

Tamara has at least seen the "light" and what is a decent relationship and opts to go live with Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) the Hardy hero who the film opens up with: We see him throughout working hard with his hands and body as a carpenter and taking care of livestock for Beth; his family lost the beautiful home they once had to Tamara's family.  Now he is being paid to renovate it.  He also seems to  have decent feelings and care for Beth, he lives up to obligations, is kind.   The  second to the last scene of the film has the pair of them looking at the house Andy can now live in as house since Tamara will marry him.

The very last scene is one of the movie's most explicit satiric scenes.  The camera focuses on a male helplessly weeping.  We don't see him clearly at first, just his jeans and the crying and then we see it's Ben. Why is he crying?  He's standing over the dog's grave.  We had seen this dog around Ben all movie long but had not realized that in fact Ben has some tender feelings if only for himself.  The dog was an unconditional friend. Standing with Ben are the two teenage girls, one of them is posing crazily and egoistically twining herself around Ben.  The other is taking photos of this imbecility. 

Point made. If you didn't get the film is a hard satire on the cruelty and absurdity of D. H. Lawrence's ideas of what makes women happy and what men want, you can't miss it now.  I know that Mary Webb's Precious Bane was mocked by Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm, but what Gibbons mocked was the posing. She saw the Lawrentian outlook as simply absurd exaggeration, phony and stupid.  Buffini and Frears see it as a manifestation of the worst aspects of male heterosexual sexuality when cruel cold aggressive men are allowed to follow their appetites unchecked.  In this final scene and in Nick's death we see these males are weak too, clinging to the very women they exploit and abuse, even to the point of these contemptible teenage fans.

The film laughs at the fans and shows them to be encouraged to be this way through the magazines and media they have available.

The two teenage girls as seen in Posy Simmonds's Tamara Drewe

It shows the society around Nick encourages him: he makes huge sums writing these ugly books, he is adulated on TV and by fan clubs who come to the writers' commune.  By laughing this way and showing the society supporting these people's behavior, it pities them and even Ben at the end.  After all these two teenage girls have no future and Ben's life is stultifying and we can see he has some intelligence.  I've put all this harshly because from personal experience and observation I know what harm the Lawrentian beliefs and behavior coming out of that causes, some of which Frears and Buffini put before us using the motifs costume melodrama centering on the middle class allows.  In her magazine Simmonds is said to be somewhat affectionate to her characters and exhibiting this sophisticated "cheeky wit."  In the film Frears (I think) feels for Beth mostly; Glen is seen as a mostly cowardly academic critic (that in itself somewhat damning) but in the end coming through.

Glen looking at and thinking about what Beth and Nick Hardiman could be talking of in the meadow



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 26th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
Dear Ellen,

I've heard a lot about this graphic novel online. Is everybody reading it because of the movie?

The movie isn't here yet, but I'll certainly look forward to it. We're usually a month or so behind.
Nov. 28th, 2010 09:45 am (UTC)
Ellen - don't put Posy SYMONDS as your blog title, the woman's name is Posy SIMMONDS, and no one will ever be able to google it like that! I read the whole graphic novel online (it's there) in one compulsive gulp, couldn't put it down. Have you listened to the program she did with Janet Todd? I sent you the link and I'm sure you'd find it interesting. Here it is again:


Nov. 28th, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC)
In the Guardian
Thanks for the info. Here's the Guardian link:


Nov. 28th, 2010 01:38 pm (UTC)
The comic book on line
Thank you very much, Fran. I probably would never have found it on my own. I was trying to buy a copy -- it does exist in book form as does her Gemma Bovary. Now this evening I can read the comic book online.

It is a comic book and the term "graphic novel" is being used to elevate the form because as "comic book" people will be less willing to acknowledge what she's doing as serious art. It's at least serious in the way many people will respect: She makes tons of money at all..

Nov. 28th, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
In the Guardian

thanks for sharing the link. I've been reading Tamara Drewe all morning and loving it.

Nov. 28th, 2010 04:51 pm (UTC)
Sheds light on actress choices & characters in Austen movies
I suggest seeing the movie too, Linda -- and also those who like Austen films. Here we have Atherton (Elizabeth Bennet type) placed against Greig (Miss Bates type) in a love-rivalry paradigm.

Nov. 29th, 2010 08:08 am (UTC)
Posy Simmonds
Posy Simmonds is an outstanding artist - she has evolved her own form of sequential art, draws very well (those sly looks of her characters that reveal thoughts), is very observant of contemporary British life, is wittily satirical, reveals self-deception and real selfish motivation with Jane Austin lightness, and has a Puck-like view of what fools these mortals be, especially where sexual attraction is concerned.
Nov. 29th, 2010 10:07 am (UTC)
Glad you liked this film and very interesting to read your thoughts on it. I've seen the movie twice - first time I probably spent too much of my time watching out for the references to 'Far from the Madding Crowd', such as the mischievous Valentine and the dog chasing the livestock (this causes Gabriel's loss of his farm in the novel, where the dog ends up shot too). Second time round I didn't worry so much about Hardy and enjoyed it more for itself. I think it is also partly a spoof on modern "Aga sagas" such as Joanna Trollope etc.

I thought I had a copy of Posy Simmonds' book somewhere but can't find where I have put it. I've always liked her work and my daughter used to be mad on one of her children's books (sorry, I forget the title) where a little girl goes to visit a museum and somehow gets inside a painting - she loved a drawing at the start where the child throws a huge tantrum at the thought of visiting a museum!
Nov. 29th, 2010 01:07 pm (UTC)
Going into the picture
Thank you for the comments, Judy. It's good to hear from you. The trope of going into the picture is in Travers's _Mary Poppins_ and also the film. So it makes sense that Simmonds would turn it round to the supposed typical child. I read in Vampire Tapestry and again Edible Woman a sudden "other" kind of view of museum going: Weyland finds us easy prey, and Marian acknowledges the justice of sneers (this surprised me but I saw the same insight as Charnas's which I'd never thought of before).

I wish I had time to read Joanna Trollope too. I've a couple I've never read, I did start one, "The Vicar's wife"? Cover illustration of soft picturesque window seat, woman at typewriter, all in pastels.

Today I'm hearing in my ears, the Beatles's song, "When I'm 64 ... Cheerful today, Judy, at least.

Dec. 19th, 2010 01:08 pm (UTC)
Tamara Drew the book
I got my hands on an actual copy of Posy Simmonds's Tamara Drewe. It's "An Advanced Reading Copy/Nor for Resale" and there are severe injunctions (or were) plastered on the back not to sell this book. The owner paid no attention, and so I've got it (as I've gotten other books of this type) for $1 plus postage.

To me still there is nothing to equal the codex for enjoyment, pleasure, really getting into the text - though I have myself put three books at least online.

I put one of the cartoon pictures as a coda to my blog: Glen (our central narrator; Beth is also important but Glen is more so) looking out at Nick and Beth Hardiman walking in the meadow.

What I thought I'd say this morning is how much the words count. I see most of the discussion of Simmonds's that her drawing is emphasized. And indeed it's superior -- now I'd say not just the expressiveness of her lines for facial expressions, but in drawing bodies, objects in the frame and the whole composition, uses of shades, lines.

However, I'd like to offer the idea that what really puts this book vastly head and shoulder above my "graphic novels" book is the writing. I did not realize that many (most?) of the pages contain much narrative and that narrative meditation within it. To echo Linda, Tamara Drewe is not a fast read. You can read the page in different ways too: first the narrative and then go through the pictures and their words, or in reverse or some other combination.

This book is persuading me for the first time a graphic novel can be the equivalent of a traditional all words no or few pictures novel and I think central to it is her brilliant prose. Words matter a lot -- even in films the script is intensely important.

It's even a slow read -- and looking. And what's here is moving as well as satiric and wry. I can see why it's popular among the upper middle class: she is capturing precisely that group in the UK (and in this book) the US through the character of Glen.

Dec. 21st, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
Transposition movie; know Hardy anyone?
I can report now that the Frears's move is very close to Simmonds's graphic novel, a transposition. Thus far only the village "pests" have been changed: they appear to be boys not girls (so will not be able to act as frantic eroticized fans for Ben Swipe). The actors were chosen to look like the graphic novel too.

I have never read Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd. I'd be genuinely interested to know from anyone who's read Tamara Drewe and Hardy's novel how close the graphic novel is to Hardy, what are the analogies.


Edited at 2010-12-21 03:41 pm (UTC)
Dec. 22nd, 2010 01:09 pm (UTC)
Tamara Drewe a rewrite of Hardy?
From John Rylands:

"I have read it and could not really relate it to Far from the madding crowd, which is one of my favorite Hardy novels. It is well illustrated, but lacks the absolute brilliance of Gemma Bovery. The fun with language is missing; in fact, the fun is missing."

Thank you for responding again, John. I don't think that no one on our list has read _Far from the Madding Crowd_, just put it down to the reality that hardly anyone here ever posts (so few probably read the digests or mailing list items.

I agree. But I loved Tamara Drewe for its melancholy. This is missing from the movie: even though it's a transposition. Instead the feeling at its strongest is disillusion, bitterness. We have two rat males (macho types); the movie is an anti-Lawrentian piece as I say. Again this is not Posy Simmonds at all: she is exposing realities of the writing life and also records, of writers and singers and what fame does to them. So there is a strong autobiographical component here, and my guess is also in the story itself.

I'm not a great Hardy reader and all I can see is the idea of retreat is a false one -- which is probably a Hardy conclusion.

Dec. 30th, 2010 02:00 pm (UTC)
Rich in landscape
I finally told myself I had finished the book last night and have put it away on my shelves. I remember Jim having a similar time letting go of some Gorey stories in pictures (and Izzy once wrote a paper on Gorey such that she won a big scholarship, never taken up, to a private Ohio college somewhere). As usual, she's misrepresented -- I now see that more clearly that I've got Gemma Bovary. In the case of Tamara Drewe I came away with such a strong sense of landscapes, memories of them; I seem to remember these best of all, and I've put a page of the (Nicholas death seen before it's explained at all), and this makes me feel that Frears' decision to do the book as a costume film adaptation with its usual rich landscapes was unerringly right.

Not that I chose that for the last image on my blog: there you see a moment of togetherness (if not really forgiveness or whole understanding or even "healing" - the cant words are not operative in Simmonds): Beth and Tamara know Casey and Jody texted Beth with photos of Beth's husband, Nick, passionately kissing Tamara; they know that Casey and Jody sent the vile messages which made Beth out to be bizzarely promiscuous; Jody is now dead, all know this. But they do sit for a moment and share cigarettes.

Next novel for me for this list will be Gemma Bovary.

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