Starring: Max Harwood, Sarah Lancashire, Richard E. Grant, Sharon Horgan, Lauren Patel
Director: Jonathan Butterell
The stage show of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is one of the biggest British theatre success stories of recent years. A musical adaptation of the true story of Jamie Campbell, a boy from Sheffield who wanted to go to his prom in drag, it took the West End by storm on its debut in 2017, winning awards aplenty and winning over critics and audiences alike. Now, after considerable delay thanks to the pandemic, its movie incarnation has finally arrived, debuting on Amazon Prime.
Jamie (Harwood) is sixteen and in the final weeks of school before his GCSEs. Flamboyant and eccentric, he has the full support and love of his mother (Lancashire – Happy Valley, Clocking Off), who is hiding that his estranged father wants nothing to do with him. Despite rejection from his peers and teachers too – especially the prickly Miss Hedge (Horgan – Catstrophe, Pulling) – his best friend Pritti (Patel) talks him into attending their prom in drag. Heading to a local drag store, he meets Hugo (Grant – Withnail & I, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) aka. ‘Loco Chanel’, who teaches him the craft of drag and coaxes the name Mimi Me from him.
All the theatrical fabulousness that made the stage show such a success is present in the film. The outstanding soundtrack, with songs by The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells – is a sparkling collection of feel-good pop, which fizz with optimism and brilliant hooks. The play pendulums between the reality of Jamie’s school and the glamour of the fabulous performative world in his head and the film follows this exact format, except the real-world has become even more real and his imagination doubly glam. With a considerable budget, the musical numbers come alive with lights, sequins, SFX and the result is sumptuous, juxtaposed against the grim normalcy of the terraced houses of Sheffield.
Max Harwood – who is making his movie debut here – is utterly compelling as Jamie, oozing effortless charisma balanced with palpable vulnerability. Sarah Lancashire is brilliant too, instilling Margaret with the reserved warmth for which the actress is known and her song “He’s My Boy”, which could even send shivers down the spine of a sociopath, is the film’s emotional highlight.
But the film’s absolute triumph comes in the shape of Richard E. Grant, who has been vocal in his nervousness at playing the part of a drag queen, especially when the role has previously been played by Bianca Del Rio, Shane Richie and Rufus Hound. But the result is a total victory, with Loco Chanel an absolute force of nature with a wounded and vulnerable heart. In one strikingly poignant song, we see Chanel’s past, sung across a grainy montage showing the plight of Britain’s LGBT+ Community in the 80s and 90s, protesting Thatcherism and subjected to the AIDS Crisis. Filmic elements like this add subtlety to the story and characters in a way that is impossible on stage, giving the movie an edge of its own.
Last year’s The Prom covered much of the same territory, but this is by far the superior film. Jamie is a gorgeous character, whose femininity is his strength, striding like a warrior-princess through his daily battles. It’s an empowering movie with a twenty-first century hero that explodes from the screen just as magnetically as he did from the stage. The film is a streamlined adaptation, but all the ingredients that made it a recipe for success have been maintained, nurtured and embellished. The realism of Jamie’s life in Sheffield might jar with some, but it only serves to make the exhilaration of its theatricality all the more entertaining. Its narrative may be simple, but when all its cogs are turning at full throttle, this is a hurtling freight-train of crowd-pleasing fun with a great big beating heart.
UK Release: Out Now on Amazon Prime