Bronagh Gallagher does a Q&A at QFT after this tale of middle class whimsy, writes Andrew Johnston
On paper, a screening of an English countryside yarn starring Gemma Arterton followed by a Q&A session with a local actress who has about five lines in the film doesn’t seem like a particularly exciting prospect. But Tamara Drewe and Bronagh Gallagher defy expectations, making this one of the most enjoyable of Queen’s Film Theatre’s In Conversation events.
Based on the Guardian comic strip by Posey Simmonds, Tamara Drewe breezes between satire and farce, romance and realism, frolics and grit. Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), the film serves up a couple of moments of shocking violence, some steamy sex scenes and an abundance of first-class performances. Its origins as a comic strip are not immediately apparent, but the characters are certainly colourful.
Journalist Tamara Drewe (Arterton) returns to the Dorset village where she grew up, now a popular writers retreat. Soon, thanks to a pair of very short shorts, she’s in the middle of a messy love triangle – well, rectangle – with childhood sweetheart Andy Cobb (Luke Evans), narcissistic indie band drummer Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper) and adulterous novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam).
Though Arterton has top billing and her character is crucial to the plot, the rest of the cast enjoy similar amounts of screen time. Allam is especially magnetic, portraying the manipulative Hardiment with panto-villain glee. Also superb are Tamsin Greig as Hardiment’s wronged wife, American stage actor Bill Camp as a struggling writer, and Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie as a pair of precocious schoolgirls who bag many of the movie’s funniest lines.
Yes, it’s all frightfully middle class and whimsical, but perhaps that’s just what cinema audiences need right now, rather than another film about life on a grim estate. Overall, the bizarre tone is pitched somewhere between The Archers and There’s Something About Mary. The less you know about the plot the better.
As for Gallagher – who plays a potty-mouthed lesbian crime writer in a handful of early scenes – she speaks engagingly about her career in the movies. Despite claiming to have had no grand plan or great ambition, Gallagher made it out of Derry, all the way to using Danny DeVito’s private bathroom on the Pulp Fiction set and beyond.
From playing the gingerbread queen in a school play to The Commitments, Mary Reilly and Star Wars Episode I, it’s been quite a ride. Her anecdote about meeting Quentin Tarantino and blagging the Pulp Fiction gig is a gem. ‘I was this wee mad thing from Derry,’ she recalls. ‘I thought, “If it’s weird he’s looking for, look no further!”’
Gallagher was picked up from her hotel by Tarantino’s personal driver – a pneumatic blonde in rockabilly gear – and given $1,000 per day spending money. 17 years later, the ‘wee mad thing from Derry’ is on first-name terms with a multitude of silver-screen legends. So, it’s Uma [Thurman] this, Julia [Roberts] that.
Gallagher's freewheeling, uncalculated approach to her career is a breath of fresh air, though if we thought she had popped into Belfast just to see us, Gallagher blows that notion out of the water. The star has actually come home for a few weeks to do her driving test.
Tamara Drewe runs at QFT until September 30.