Strikingly picturesque locations and a terrific ensemble cast help this tonally inconsistent adaptation of Posy Simmonds's comic series pass by with relative ease, though it leaves a very peculiar aftertaste. A present-day riff on Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd, Stephen Frears's film is set in and around a bucolic writer's retreat, where a bunch of caricatured literary types---such as detective novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Allam) and introverted academic Glen McCreavy (Camp)---while away the hours in hack productivity or soul-crushing writer's block. Then a muse appears in the comely shape of newspaper columnist Tamara Drewe (Arterton), an ugly duckling turned hiked-shorts beauty who's arrived to look after her late mother's estate.
Drama and some black, black comedy ensue. One narrative thread, featuring a sort of love triangle among Tamara, a pampered rock star (Dominic Cooper) and a smitten teenage fan (Jessica Barden), is frequently gut-busting. Another detailing the rivalry between Hardiment and McCreavy walks a bizarre line between farce and tragedy until it culminates in a WTF mad cow stampede. Credit Frears with keeping the mishmash somewhat grounded. He's no stranger to the offbeat---see his great Joe Orton biopic, Prick Up Your Ears, for a more deft and successful example---but this one doesn't play to his strengths.
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