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TAMARA DREWE

About The Production
Tamara Drewe, the character, has undeniable appeal – but what appealed to Director Stephen Frears about Tamara Drewe the film script and graphic novel? "The script makes me laugh, it's very, very funny, and very sexy and a very contemporary, modern film. And doing an adaptation of a comic strip is terribly liberating. You can sort of do anything; it frees you up in the most wonderful way. Comic strips are normally Superman, or about superheroes, but this is a comic strip which is also intelligent and about things you recognise. I've never made a film like this; I had to completely rethink how I do things.”

Producer Alison Owen recalls, "I saw the opportunity with Tamara to do an interesting independent film that had great characters, drama, comedy – but intelligent comedy – and also some social comment running through it as well.”

A distinct element of serendipity surrounded Tamara Drewe's genesis. "I had been aware of Posy's work and always loved it,” says Alison Owen (the graphic novel first appeared as a serial in the Guardian). "But it was only when Posy's publishers had the genius idea to publish Tamara as a full graphic novel that I suddenly saw the potential and thought it would be a fantastic movie. I had seen the book that weekend and then on Monday morning I found that literary agent, Anthony Jones, had sent me a copy, obviously having the same idea in mind. He had simultaneously sent a copy to Christine Langan (Creative Director of BBC Films), and then Christine and I bumped into each other at a Marylebone delicatessen, both of us with these big Tamara Drewe books in our little handbags! Christine and I both fell in love with it and the BBC wanted to develop it so that was a very easy set up.”

Stephen Frears also fell immediately for the unique charm and challenges of Posy Simmonds' graphic novel: "My goodness, I knew it was original. Christine Langan sent it to me, and said, ‘I've got something for you.' I was flying to New York and I opened the envelope on the plane. I couldn't believe what I was looking at. It happened like that with The Snapper. You can't believe what you've been sent. Very, very nice!”

This serendipity and the vibrancy of the source material continued to be an asset as Alison started to assemble her team: "Literally the first writer we sent it to was Moira Buffini and she wanted to do it. The first draft she turned in was wonderful. We did a little bit of tweaking, but pretty much sent that draft to our first choice - Stephen Frears, who wanted to do it straight away. So it was one of those points where you feel like God is with you, you know, the universe is on your side.”

"Having had the challenge over the years of putting together many and varied types of productions, it's very rare and exhilarating when the stars align like this” adds Producer Paul Trijbits.

Another unique selling point and challenge in adapting Tamara Drewe was the fact that the film came with a readymade storyboard, in the form of Posy Simmonds' original graphic novel. For screenwriter Moira Buffini, this was more help than hindrance: "Visually you've got so much there, you just think, ‘My goodness, it's a film'. She gives you so many clues to the character in her drawings. The characters are really well observed, all of them.”

Frears too found having Posy Simmonds' illustrations as a reference point an aid: "It was very, very liberating. Literally there was a storyboard if you chose to think about it like that. Frequently we would do things and you'd look at it in the book and say – ‘Well, I can't improve on that. It tells you everything you want to know.' Somebody before you has compressed everything down to a single image. It might be a complex image, but she's got it into one frame.”

Production Designer Alan Macdonald, a regular Frears collaborator, continues the theme: "It's unusual for a designer to have a readymade storyboard, which of course works in my favour and against my better interests. Often Stephen will say, "Just look at the book,” and then sometimes he'll say, "Just ignore the book!”

Key to the whole production team was that they didn't feel constrained to be too faithful to Posy's illustrations. Costume Designer Consolata Boyle: "You always go back to the source material because in it you find something wonderful, but obviously you need the space to interpret it as well because when the actors are cast, they are involved - their shapes, their feelings, their colouring dictate and you work around that as well. But I found the book and the illustrations a wonderful safety net.”

Producer Alison Owen elaborates on this theme with regards to the casting process: "That's one example of the unthinking that you had to do. Actually a number of the characters did end up looking quite like Posy's drawings. Several exceptions looked nothing like them, and then there was that thought process of, ‘Well, OK, we love the spirit of this person but they don't look anything like Posy's book; does that matter?

Is it more important to capture the spirit? Can we conceive of that character in a new way, even though they're still embodying the essence of Posy's character?'” And for the cast too, the graphic novel posed its own set of challenges. Luke Evans, who plays Andy: "I flicked through it the first time I got the book and immediately knew which character I was. It was quite weird! All the cast have had the same thing, where we've scanned through and thought ‘blinkin' heck, I actually look quite like the character, they've done quite a good job!'... We've all got a bit of our characters in us, and that's magic, that's talent, for someone to have plucked us all out individually and found actors so accurately like our characters, physically, and to have mannerisms about us that relate to the characters.”

For Tamsin Greig, too, the book proved a great help: "It's brilliant for an actor because it's like being handed your own storyboard. And Posy Simmonds is so good at those tiny nuances of expression which are really helpful. It's like having a 3D script, really, you're coming at it from lots of different visual and physical angles.”

The form of the graphic novel also led to discussions amongst the filmmakers about how much to incorporate a comic book style in the look of the film. Alison Owen comments: "We did want to capture something of that, because there's something in the way that the material is rendered in pictorial form that has a very pleasant rhythm to it and adds an extra dimension that I wanted, if we could, to capture. Where I think Stephen has been fantastically clever – and I'm not nearly clever enough to analyse how he's done it – is that he has captured that rhythm without resorting to graphic novel devices. I thought, in my simple way, that it might be that we end up with names on the frame, or arrows, but, not ‘KAPOW!!'. Stephen has not used any of those devices except a little bit of split screen here and there. And yet somehow it has that different rhythm. You do definitely feel that it's been adapted from a graphic novel; that it's got that cartoony, strip feel to it, that's somehow embedded intrinsically, rather than overlaid. Stephen's caught the spirit, not just of the material but of the form and the genre, and embedded it into the movie.”

"I wouldn't make the film until I'd got the cast,” says director Stephen Frears. "My casting director said to me, ‘You're casting this before you've decided to make the film.' I said, ‘Well, what do you think financiers do?!'”

Nowhere was the casting more crucial than in finding their iconic, titular heroine. Says Frears: "When I met her, Gemma Arterton did immediately r

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