I am a big fan of the PBS series “Pioneers of Television,” and I am especially looking forward to tonight’s episode about the early days of local children’s TV featuring Willard Scott, Stan Freberg, Jim Henson, Larry Harmon (“Bozo”) and Nancy Claster (“Romper Room”). Before national programs like “Sesame Street,” “Captain Kangaroo,” and “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” television for children was developed locally. “Romper Room” and “Bozo the Clown” appeared in nearly every market, but they were franchised so that some cities could produce their own versions.
Be sure to watch for some surprising history and some familiar faces.
You might think that in a movie called “Tamara Drewe,” the character named Tamara Drewe would be the protagonist. She isn’t. You might then think she could be the primary antagonist creating the chaos that has to be straightened out by the protagonist. Not really. And you might think that a movie based on a graphic novel would have some sci-fi or fantasy or at least be set in a big, modern city. Not even close. This film, based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds has a few surprises in store.
Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) does create something of an uproar in the almost-too picturesque English village she returns to after the death of her mother. Her ostensible purpose is to fix up her home so it can be sold. Her real purpose, one with which we all can identify, is to show the folks she left behind that contrary to their impression of her as an awkward teenager dubbed “Beaky” because of her big nose, she is now a very glamorous and successful young writer with a smaller nose who looks very, very good in a pair of jean shorts that are very, very small.
There are two people in particular she would like to get this message. First is the middle-aged married man who hurt her feelings, a very successful writer of mystery novels named Nicholas (the oleaginous Roger Allam). Second is the young man who broke her heart, a handyman named Andy (Luke Evans), who works at the writer’s residence owned by Nicholas and his wife Beth (the superb Tamsin Greig). While Nicholas turns out eight pages a day and basks in the adoration — and sometimes more — of fans, Beth caters to an assortment of would-be writers with home-made cookies, gentle encouragement, and a few shrewd suggestions about plotting and tone. Meanwhile, a pair of teenage girls (the terrific (Charlotte Christie and Jessica Barden) with a crush on a rock star (Dominic Cooper) create all kinds of mischief for everyone, especially after Tamera’s interview with him turns into a romance.
The fun of the film is the way it upends expectations. In a setting that superficially appears to have changed very little since the time of its Thomas Hardy inspiration (especially Far from the Madding Crowd), there are splashes of modernity from lesbian porn to a nose job and a rock band called Swipe. Hardy’s lost letter mix-up is recalled when one of the teenagers sends emails from Tamara’s account. On the surface, too, with its title cards showing the four seasons and Masterpiece Theatre understated rhythms and elegant accents, it seems at first to be a conventionally structured story. But it has a beguilingly episodic nature, based on the book’s multiple narrators and on its origins as a weekly comic, with its leisurely and open-ended story-line, where even the author has not decided on an end point. Some viewers may find that unsettling, but it has some sharply observed moments for those who are willing to meander.
Parents should know that this film has very explicit sexual references and situations, nudity, drinking, drugs, fatal accident with some graphic images, extremely strong language, and bad behavior by teens including smoking and sexual conversation.
Family discussion: How did Tamara’s teenage experiences
influence her adult decisions?
What do you think will happen to the girls?
If you like this, try: the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds
Life of Song is the latest CD from kid favorite Ella Jenkins, featuring classics like “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Ms. Jenkins was the first performer who understood the power of folk songs and spirituals for children and she has spent half a century bringing this music to schools all over the world.
This very special CD will be released February 22, but one lucky fan can get an early copy by sending me an email at email@example.com with Ella in the subject line. Tell me your favorite song to sing in the car with your family and don’t forget your address!
This week’s release of Adam Sandler’s remake of “Cactus Flower” is a good reason to check out the 1969 original with Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman, and, in her Oscar-winning screen debut, Goldie Hawn.
It began as a French play, adapted into a smash success on Broadway, and then this movie version, brightly directed by Gene Saks. Matthau plays Julian, a dentist who tells the girls he dates that he is married to avoid any long-term romantic entanglements. But when his much-younger girlfriend Toni (Hawn) attempts suicide he realizes how much he loves her and tells her he wants to get married. She is worried about being a home wrecker and insists on meeting his wife to be sure that she wants a divorce. Rather than tell Toni the truth, Julian persuades his starchy nurse (Bergman) to pretend to be his wife. Various romantic complications are all straightened out by the happy ending.