IF these last, late summer weeks have seen west Dorset experience a surge in visits from French tourists we can thank Stephen Frears for it.

For the man behind a diverse range of hits including Dangerous Liaisons, Mrs Henderson Presents and The Queen took his latest film – adapted from Posy Simmonds’ Guardian comic strip, itself inspired by Far From The Madding Crowd – to Cannes earlier this year where he proudly announced that Dorset was “the new Provence”.

“It’s been playing in French cinemas as well,” Frears confirms, “and it’s actually been a huge success. It’s only played in one country so far and it’s gone down brilliantly.”

Some of Frears’ cast actually went to Cannes in May – and got to experience the reaction to the film first hand.

“We went down for the day,” says Tamsin Greig, who plays the sweet but put upon Beth Hardiment in the film. “I think people are sort of amazed that this sort of film has been made, because you can’t say what it is. No-one can label it, and we so long to label things.

“Stephen has said all the time he just wants people to go to the cinema and enjoy themselves, and I think you do really enjoy yourself when you’re watching it, however awful and funny it is. That’s the feedback that I’ve had.”

Greig is quick to assert the sole reason Frears cast her was for the farming experience he assumed she had, having played Debbie Aldridge in The Archers for the last nine years. This is where drama diverges with real life, as Frears mischievously adds that she knows absolutely nothing about it.

What is beyond doubt is how beautifully Frears’ film represents Dorset on screen. Shot around the village of Beaminster and the surrounding area this time last year, the challenge was in conveying all the seasons over the standard eight week film schedule.

“It was a wonderful September and October,” Frears add. “We got down there at the beginning of September and you couldn’t see more than 30 yards. And then it suddenly cleared and it was a gorgeous Indian summer, so we were very, very lucky. The truth is we should have filmed it over a year, but I don’t know how you’d have done that. We didn’t have that sort of money, so there’s an awful lot of plastic daffodils in there.”

Not that you would notice this on seeing the film. For one thing the torrid drama that unfolds on screen offers a distraction as Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) returns to the village in which she grew up, and causes consternation amongst the menfolk there, including Beth’s husband Nicholas (Roger Allam) and old flame Andy (Luke Evans).

It quickly becomes apparent that the awkward teenager who left for London is now a young woman of poise and confidence, well aware of her effect on the opposite sex, not least as she makes an entrance over a country stile in a snug red vest top and tight fitting denim shorts.

“That’s in the book,” Arterton says cheerily, “and it is a memorable scene, with those hot pants. And for the joke, for Tamsin’s wonderful punchline to work they did have to be ridiculously provocative.”

It may yet become a sequence every bit as iconic as Meryl Streep looking out from the Cobb at Lyme Regis in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, or Terence Stamp’s Sergeant Troy displaying his swordsmanship to Bathsheba Everdene at Maiden Castle in Far From The Madding Crowd.

Indeed that film offered significant echoes for the makers of Tamara Drewe, as it shared the same source as Posy Simmonds’ modern take on Thomas Hardy’s novel.

But where Troy was a dragoon with a razor sharp sword in his scene, Dominic Cooper’s character – Ben Sergeant in this story – is an egotistical rock drummer who expresses his own passion with the something akin to the tools of his musical trade.

“He had the sword for the seduction scene,” Cooper chuckles, “and I was given a pair of chopsticks.”

“But that’s brilliant,” Tamsin Greig enthuses, “Posy takes the incredible scene and does it with these sticks. It’s such a brilliant idea, such a modern interpretation of that seduction.”

The challenge in transferring Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel to the screen did not lay just in capturing the beautiful countryside and changing seasons. Although it first appeared as a strip cartoon in The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger was less keen on this libidinous Tamara representing his paper on the big screen.

“He wouldn’t let me do it,” smiles Frears, “so we made her a journalist for The Independent instead.”

Not that the locals who played host to the production last autumn would have known or cared much about such details. They were far more interested in the film unit that was visiting, immortalising the country on screen. Unlike Londoners who seem irritated by the disruption a film crew poses to their daily routine, the people of west Dorset positively welcomed it.

“It’s only London where people are jaded,” Stephen Frears – who has homes both there and here – explains.

“Everywhere else you’re welcomed, and the people on this film were very, very nice. In London everyone’s rather bored by it all. They’re always down my street filming. It’s a nightmare.”

For all the tumultuous emotion played out on screen, with the broken hearts and broken bones of some of those whose paths cross that of Tamara Drewe, the glorious backdrop of the beautiful Dorset countryside remains a constant. In that, at least, Frears’ cast can agree with the opinion of audiences up and down France.

“It was beautiful,” Tamsin Greig adds with a smile, “and a real joy to be there.”