Frears' rural raunch brings English stampede to Cannes

18th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Stephen Frears proudly claimed Tuesday to be the first director to bring a stampede of English cows to the big screen with "Tamara Drewe," which premieres in Cannes with Bond girl Gemma Arterton.

"I'd made a western so I knew how to do cattle," Frears told AFP ahead of the red-carpet gala screening of the comedy adapted from a comic strip that originally appeared in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The dark comedy, a tale of seduction in the English countryside based on the cartoons of Posy Simmonds, culminates in a tragedy caused by a stampede of Friesian cows that flee a rock star's rampaging boxer dog.

Arterton, who was in the 2008 James Bond film "Quantum of Solace," plays the title role of a journalist who left her village as an awkward teenager but returns from London -- after a nose-job -- as a sultry femme fatale.

She leaves a trail of lust, envy and gossip in the village and in a nearby writers' retreat in the rolling hills of Dorset on England's south coast.

The comic strip, later turned into a graphic novel, is a modern take on Thomas Hardy's classic 19th-century novel "Far From the Madding Crowd."

But Frears, whose 2006 film "The Queen" scooped an Oscar for lead actress Helen Mirren, said he didn't bother much with Hardy's work, which he described as "about a woman and three men (and)... sheep that go over a cliff."

The advantage of instead using a graphic novel as the basis for his film meant that "you don't start off in a realistic novel, you start off with an imaginative artist, and I found that tremendous -- really, really grand."

"You're working with someone who's reduced a complicated scene down to one image, so that's rather inspiring and also very liberating, because it's not coming from a written source," said the director.

The US actress Glenn Close once described Frears, whose latest film is screening in Cannes out of competition, as looking like "a stadium after a game."

The 68-year-old film-maker lived up to that description Tuesday at the AFP interview he conducted in the sunny garden of a Cannes villa wearing a crumpled short-sleeved shirt and equally crumpled baggy trousers.

Asked if he felt that his film was an accurate description of rural English life, he replied with a laugh: "If there's that much adultery and sex going on, I hope so for their sake!"

"Tamara Drewe" sees an American character staying at the writers' retreat describing authors as "self-regarding sacks of shit," and the film shows a particularly loathsome scribbler trampled to death by cows.

Does that view reflect Frears' own opinion of writers?

"Sometimes, on a bad day," he chuckled. "My life has been spent with writers. I think they're fantastic people but that doesn't mean that sometimes they don't drive me mad."

Frears has in his long career alternated independent British films like "My Beautiful Laundrette," "Dirty Pretty Things," or "The Van," with bigger-budget flicks like "Dangerous Liaisons" or "Mary Reilly" with big name US actors.

He said he expected his new film -- a quintessentially English comedy -- would go down well with foreign audiences.

"What they (foreign audiences) really like about the English is Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. They like that sort of British looniness," he said.

Two veteran British contemporaries -- Mike Leigh and Ken Loach -- are in the running for the Palme d'Or top prize at Cannes this year, but Frears said he was relieved that his own film was not in the race.

Presenting "Tamara Drewe" out of competition means that "you smile a lot more... I'm not going to lose! I've eliminated the possibility of losing!"

© 2010 AFP

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