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Tamara Drewe - Stephen Frears interview

Stephen Frears directs Tamara Drewe

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ACCLAIMED British director Stephen Frears talks about some of the challenges of bringing Tamara Drewe to the big screen and what he likes about Posy Simmonds’ source material.

Q. Would you describe the graphic novel as a good starting point – the storyboard that you could evolve the story out from?
Stephen Frears: Well the truth is the book is so wonderful, I think. I’m sure the details were changed but the spirit of the book, the genius behind the book, I wouldn’t want to change a thing.

Q. Given the way the plot comes together and how the characters within it are reminiscent of the functions in classic literature, how did you balance the traditional with the modern?
Stephen Frears: Well, in a way Posy had done that. She’s the real thing, she’s very, very clever. So she’d constructed the plot in that way. And even though we increased their roles, the two girls were like the Gods in Homer, they were manipulating the adults and moving them around and observing them. So, in a way the work had been done for me. Clearly my job is to balance out a lot of stories and to keep all these balls in the air.

Q. How about the balance between the feel of a graphic novel with the realism in the story?
Stephen Frears: Well, that’s sort of what you had to do, really. It seemed to me you had to get the tone right. Clearly, Terry Gilliam would have had much more of all of that comic strip stuff in it, but what’s in the film is the best I could do really. I knew that was right because that was the quality it had, and found it very, very enjoyable and very liberating. It was really good fun in that sense. You had to sort of bounce it around, and that’s what I guess you’re allowed to do in graphic novels.

Q. How receptive were the locals to having a film crew on their doorstep?
Stephen Frears: It’s only London where people are jaded. Everywhere else you’re welcomed, and people are very, very nice. In London everyone’s rather jaded and bored. They’re always down my street filming. It’s a nightmare.

Q. You show the seasons remarkably over one film shoot, how did you do that and how did you make summer look so idyllic?
Stephen Frears: On the contrary, it was a wonderful September and October. We used to go down there at the beginning of September and you couldn’t see more than 30 yards. And then it suddenly cleared and it was a gorgeous Indian summer, so we were very, very lucky. The truth is we should have filmed it over a year, but I don’t know how you’d have done that. We didn’t have that sort of money, so there were an awful lot of plastic daffodils in there!

Q. Did it cause a problem?
Stephen Frears: The seasons? Yes, it was a pain in the arse, because you couldn’t really do them properly. You had to shoot out of continuity and things like that, and you had to really create it by artificial means. I could tell you everything that’s wrong, but the blessing was the hot weather which enabled us to do the summer.

Q. Gemma Arterton and Dominic Cooper have been hot properties in the business for a couple of years – was this the reason for their being cast?
Stephen Frears: No, I’ve never seen Mamma Mia!, so I had to be told that Dominic was in it [laughs]. So, their heat was rather wasted on me.

Q. You had a particular inspiration for the scene involving the cows trampling a key character, didn’t you?
Stephen Frears: It’s all based on the death of Shere Khan in The Jungle Book, yes. [In the book] He [Kipling] traps the tiger in a ravine and he drives the buffalo down, and the buffalo kill the tiger.

Q. Tamara Drewe was originally in The Guardian newspaper, but she’s an Independent journalist in your film. How come?
Stephen Frears: The editor of The Guardian wouldn’t let us have her work for The Guardian. But also it then became more complicated because it was [a question of] whether it was appropriate for The Guardian. I didn’t mind it being The Independent, though I think Posy [Simmonds] thought it probably should be The Evening Standard.

Q. And Hardiman became Hardiment as well, was that as the result of some kind of legal searches?
Stephen Frears: That’s exactly it… they must have found some crime writer in
Dorset [laughs].

Q. What are your views on the demise of the Film Council?
Stephen Frears: In the end if there’s public money someone has to distribute it and it has to be accounted for, and something will come up to take its place. What really matters is that the subsidy isn’t affected, that the tax subsidy is maintained and the things that the Film Council has done – work in the regions, the development of new talent, development of scripts, things like that – that that’s kept going. And I’m afraid they cost money.

The truth of the matter is, if you want films like this or The Queen, certain kinds of films, you have to support them. It’s just a fact of life really. In the end this film was made because the film council gave us some money. I don’t actually know how much it was. But they gave us some money and that enabled us make it, and to make it properly. The truth is the Tories haven’t said anything yet. They’ve said if anything they want to give more money to films and have less bureaucracy, well how can you complain about that? But the time will come, I guess in October, when we’re told what the cuts are going to be, and we’ll find out what the words actually mean. But removing the Film Council… there’ll be some other agency of distribution.

Read our review of Tamara Drewe

Read our interview with Dominic Cooper