Stephen Frears Tamara Drewe Interview
British director Stephen Frears has been at the helm of loads of acclaimed films over the years, from My Beautiful Laundrette to High Fidelity to The Queen. His latest, Tamara Drewe, is based on the comic by Posy Simmonds and stars Gemma Arterton, Tamsin Greig and Dominic Cooper. Frears was recently in the capital along with some of the film’s stars, where he spoke about jaded Londoners, Indian summers the demise of the Film Council.
Please note, this contains spoilers for the film Tamara Drewe.
Tamara Drewe was in The Guardian, but she’s an Independent journalist in your film. How come?
Stephen Frears (SF):
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. As standards dropped.
Hardiman became Hardiment as well, was that as the result of some kind of legal searches?
That’s exactly it, they must have found some crime writer in Dorset.
What was your approach to the book? Did you look at it as a storyboard that you could evolve the story out from?
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.
Gemma and Dominic have been hot properties in the business for a couple of years – was this the reason for their being cast?
No, I’ve never seen Mamma Mia!, so I had to be told that Dominic was in it.
Gemma Arterton (GA):
Shut up Stephen, you know that you watch it privately on your own.
Quite right. So their heat was rather wasted on me.
Stephen hadn’t seen anything that I’d done, which was brilliant.
I still haven’t.
How receptive were the locals to having a film crew on their doorstep?
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.
Did the locals get into the swing of it quickly?
They didn’t say, “No, no, no, put the camera round there”. They were very, very nice.
You show the seasons remarkably over one film shoot, how did you do that and how did you make summer look so idyllic?
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 was an awful lot of plastic daffodils in there.
Did it cause a problem?
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. There are too many leaves on the trees for example. I could tell you everything that's wrong, but the blessing was the hot weather which enabled us to do the summer.
You had a particular inspiration for Nicholas's death scene, didn’t you?
It’s all based on the death of Shere Khan in The Jungle Book.
Tamsin Greig (TG):
Did we tie a burning branch to Roger Allam’s tail?
You haven’t read The Jungle Book.
I’m thinking of Disney, aren’t I?
He traps the tiger in a ravine and he drives the buffalo down, and the buffalo kill the tiger.
Disney’s so shit, isn’t it?
Compared to Kipling, yes.
The way the plot comes together and how the characters within the plot are reminiscent of the functions in classic literature, how did you balance the traditional with the modern?
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.
How about the balance between the feel of a graphic novel with the realism in the story?
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.
What are your views on the demise of the Film Council?
The agency of the Film Council, 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.