A roundtable chat with director Stephen Frears of “Tamara Drewe”

Stephen Frears on location for Anyone who thinks that the only interesting directors are the ones with obvious personal styles needs to take a long, hard long at the filmography of Stephen Frears. Something of a contemporary, English throwback to such versatile craftsmen of pre-auteur theory Hollywood as William Wyler, George Stevens, Robert Wise, and Michael Curtiz, the Cambridge-educated Frears began his career neck deep in the English New Wave cinema of the 1960s as an assistant director on Karel Riesz’s “Morgan!,” and Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 surreal youth revolt drama, “If…” Later moving on to directing for the BBC, his second theatrical feature, 1984’s “The Hit,” was mostly ignored despite an all-star cast, but did gain a cult following of which I am a proud member. Frears’ follow up collaboration with writer Hanif Kureishi, a then-bold cross-racial same-sex romance, “My Beautiful Laundrette,” co-starred a young Daniel Day Lewis and got more immediate results. It was a hit in arthouses on both sides of the Atlantic and helped make Lewis a star; it also paved the way for Frears’ smashing mainstream Hollywood debut, 1988’s Oscar-winning “Dangerous Liaisons.”

Since then, Frears has enjoyed success both here in the U.S. and at home in England with numerous BAFTAs and films as diverse as “High Fidelity” and “The Grifters” — for which he was nominated for an Oscar — as well as the ultra-English “The Queen” and “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” He’s dealt with modern-day cowboys (1998’s “The Hi-Lo Country”), English fascism (2000’s “Liam”), the monarchy (2006’s “The Queen”), and the illegal trade of human organs (2002’s “Dirty Pretty Things”). When George Clooney decided he wanted to try a live television remake of “Fail Safe” back in 2000, Frears handled the chore to no shortage of acclaim.

Frear’s latest, “Tamara Drewe,” has fared reasonably well with critics on the whole, though not so much with this particular longtime admirer. An adaptation of a graphic novel originally serialized in England’s The Guardian by cartoonist and children’s book author Posy Simmonds, the tale is a comic, modern-day homage to Thomas Hardy’s tragic 1874 novel, Far From the Madding Crowd starring Gemma Arterton as a formerly large nosed “ugly duckling” whose swannish post-operative return to her family’s estate sparks chaos at a writer’s retreat in ultra-picturesque rural England.

Apparently taking the casualness of California fully to heart, the 69-year-old Frears, who bears some resemblance to the late Rodney Dangerfield, arrived unshaven and in a t-shirt that had seen better days. If the “just rolled out of bed” look was disconcerting, however, we needn’t have worried. Frears was in good spirits and clearly enjoys sharing his views with the press.

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A roundtable chat with Gemma Arterton of “Tamara Drewe”

There’s no getting around it. Gemma Arterton is extremely attractive and also striking, and even more so in person. That’s especially so if you’ve found yourself seated right next to her at a roundtable with about 11 or 12 other writers and the prior two males you’ve sat next to at that table (no names) seemed as if they might have recently rolled out of bed and thrown on a gallon of expensive aftershave/cologne. The utterly tasteful Ms. Arterton, however, was appropriately dressed and scented, though she did remove her huge and apparently uncomfortable pumps to reveal perfectly painted toenails.

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Tamara Drewe,” a romantic farce with tragic overtones that opened this week for its initial run in four theaters in L.A. and New York, stars Arterton as an autobiographical newspaper columnist whose recent plastic surgery has transformed her from large-nosed semi-ugly duckling to tiny-nosed brunette bombshell. It’s a comedy with tragic overtones drawn from the the graphic novel of the same name by cartoonist Posy Simmonds, which is itself a sort of homage to Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd.” The film was directed by Stephen Frears, a director noted for tremendous versatility who confuses us critics by changing his style with just about every film. His output has ranged from from such recently enjoyable, grandma-friendly arthouse fare as “The Queen” and “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” to low down tales of crime and skullduggery like my personal favorite, 1984’s “The Hit.”

I was not blown away by much about this particular movie, however, including parts of Arterton’s performance, but that’s me. It has fared reasonably well over at Rotten Tomatoes and may well please other fans of this sort of English countryside comedy, which I usually enjoy myself. Ms. Arterton has also generated good reviews in “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” as well as co-starring in “Clash of the Titans,” “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and as Strawberry Fields in “Quantum of Solace” alongside Daniel Craig’s 007, forever tagging herself with the sobriquet “Bond girl.” Still, at 24, she has a maturity and self-possession about her that, at the very least, makes her more of a Bond woman. Or maybe it’s just that she’s tall.

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