He's one of Britain's finest directing talents, and he's not a fan of repeating himself. Stephen Frears adapts a comic strip for his latest, Tamara Drewe, about a columnist who comes back to her sleepy, small hometown and goes out of her way to disrupt everyone's lives.
Gemma Arterton is the titular Tamara. Post-nose job, she's a sight to behold and she stops the locals in their tracks, even the ones that weren't interested when she was younger. Amongst them, Roger Allam's crime novelist Nicholas Hardiment, who spurned her amorous advances when she was a teen but now can't take his eyes off her. Also besotted is Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) who dumped her many moons ago because his friends called her Beaky.
But she only has eyes for Ben Sergeant, former drummer for Swipe, a band who has split up in rather drastic fashion on stage at a local festival. Meanwhile, guests at Hardiment's house for a writers' retreat are witness to the impending breakdown of his marriage to his wife Beth (Tamsin Greig), who's had it with his frequent extra-marital trysts.
So it's not The Queen, then.
Instead, it's a rather light-hearted and lyrical pastoral romp, with all the charm of Britain's small village culture and a cast of characters both eclectic and energetic. After heavier work, it's a rather frivolous distraction for Frears, but a worthy one, and most of all it's riotously funny.
It works because its characters are so well drawn. Tamara herself has looks and a brain to match and isn't afraid to use either. Hardiment has the sort of entitled swagger of a successful man who's well aware of his success, and all the libido of a teenager. His long-suffering wife, Beth, is loveable and naïve with an impossibly endearing commitment to her marriage.
And they interact so beautifully, with every character given time to bounce off every other one. At times the film is a little too busy, and one or two characters only pop into scenes briefly, but the comedy comes from the way they behave around each other and tends to work even if there's a huge number of sub-plots to keep up with.
But the scene stealers of the piece are Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie), a pair of yokel teens whose idea of excitement is egging cars and breaking and entering. Their little exchanges are frivolous asides to begin with, but they soon start to impact the relationship dynamics of the main story, and when they do they generally lead to the best humour.
And it's a decidedly less dreary take on British life than the cinema Britain tends to favour. We spend time in each of the seasons, but the countryside rarely looks anything other than powerfully picturesque, with a real sense of optimism to the piece.
This may be lighter fare than Stephen Frears is used to, but it certainly seems to strike close to his sense of humour, and while it's often outrageous, there's always something real to every scene. Woody Allen tells a similarly frivolous relationship comedy this Cannes, but his has far less truth within than Frears's.