Directed by Stephen Frears, and adapted from Posey Simmonds' graphic novel (which was itself inspired by Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd), Tamara Drewe unfolds at an English countryside writer's retreat run by philandering mystery novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and his dutiful wife Beth (Tasmin Greig), where the return of a former local (Gemma Arterton, below), who with a bit of plastic surgery has transformed herself into a bombshell magazine columnist, sets off a chain of professional jealousies, love affairs and teenage infatuations — the latter in the form of two scheming 15-year-olds who act almost as a sort of Greek chorus for the movie.
Frears is an accomplished director who trusts heartily in his casting instincts and so, as to be expected, there's good group work here from the actors, including Bill Camp, as a constipated academic and would-be Hardy biographer. Somewhat to its detriment, though, Tamara Drewe isn't really about... well, Arterton's Tamara Drewe. It's instead a rangy, noodling ensemble piece which could have used a bit more of a streamlined narrative vision and scope. Plenty of the characters are colorful, including the horny drummer (Dominic Cooper) of an ascendant rock band, but they don't always fit together in convincing ways, and Frears' loose-limbed film, while warm and fitfully witty, feels consistently and steadfastly like less than the sum of its parts. (Sony Pictures Classics, R, 107 minutes)