Finding the modern spin on classic novels is usually either quite fun or painful to watch, depending on how much you love the original source material. Modern reworkings don’t always work and the original is usually the better place to start if you’re trying to get yourself into the classics. But when you come across a modern adaptation of story you hadn’t considered before, in this case, Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, a story you’ve not seen a billion times before like Shakespeare or, yes, even Austen herself, its intriguing, especially if it comes in the form of a graphic novel of awkward size and written and illustrated by Posey Simmonds. Brilliantly written (adapted) with a distinct style that lends itself so well to the characters and location of the story. Simmonds had already given ‘Madame Bovary’ a reworking in ‘Gemma Bovary’, equally as entertaining and brilliantly illustrated, so Hardy’s Bathsheba, seemed like another headstrong, independent thinking and ultimately quite tragic heroine to adapt. Bathsheba became Tamara. From the first page, the graphic novel was film worthy so it was with little surprise and with ease the book came alive on screen.
Set in the fictional Ewedown, where the famous crime writer Nicholas Hardiment lives with his long suffering and patient wife Beth live on a farm where they host writers’ retreats. She runs these retreats, the farm, the household, the bookkeeping, edits his pages, sorts out his fan mail and he writes. Their handyman, Andy, helps out, taking on the manual work. His niece and her friend pass the time reading trashy magazine and obsessing over celebs. Then, one day, Tamara returns and literally shakes the village awake.
In the book, we hear the story told from the perspective of Beth, Greg, one of the writers staying at the farm and Andy’s teenage niece Casey but never from Tamara herself. We get voiceovers from Beth and Greg, but instead we are treated to micro flashbacks which paints the picture of Tamara before we really get to know her. Instead of the story just being all about gossip, the film actually gives us more information about the other characters. We’re given more insight into Andy, Ben, Nicholas and Tamara which shapes up more in line with Hardy’s version. Despite the three men in the story, Nicholas, Ben and Andy clearly representing the men in the book; Boldwood, the wealthy older man, Troy, the hot-headed army Sergeant and Gabriel, the gentle farmer, it also feels as if Nicholas Hardiment is also part Hardy himself. Hardiment, a writer, continuously cheats on Beth with younger women, much like Hardy himself. Hardiment suffers the biggest punishment, much like Boldwood but this time is vicious. Hardy is ever present in the story, being the subject of Greg’s book, referenced in the advert for the writers’ retreat and of course in Hardiment.
Tamara is the presented as the catalyst for the events of a whole year beginning with her arrival. She is talked about, discussed, judged and idolised. Her matter of fact manner comes across as harsh or rude but really, she’s just a woman who holds on to the past and wants to be free at the same time. There are moments when she tries to explain how she feels and she gets cut off by the men in her life and misunderstood. She’s a wonderfully complex character that we only get to see in glimpses, just how all the other characters see her.
The real catalyst of the story is Jody. Standing in as the tragic character of Robin, Jody obsesses over Tamara, going as far as breaking into her house on a regular basis, trying on her clothes, drinking her wine and is sometimes joined by Casey. Jody loves Ben and is ecstatic when he starts dating Tamara because he’s always in the village but it all goes wrong when he leaves so, naturally, she tries to bring him back. Thankfully her fate is very different to that of Robin which differs from Simmonds’ book, but as Tamara Drewe, the film, is a comedy, they had to keep it light-ish.
The film hit its 10th Anniversary on 10th September but still feels as fresh as ever. Simmonds’ adaption could easily be seen as cinematic and with a few tweaks here and there, it still holds up as a great British film.