Max Harwood, with his bleach blonde hair and gravity-defying red stilettos, snaps into position. His character, Jamie New – an endearingly naive yet resilient aspiring drag queen reckoning with their identity and place in the world – is determined to make his drizzly Sheffield seem like the epicentre of all things that sparkle and shine. He turns to his best friend (Lauren Patel’s sweetly awkward Pritti) and offers some sage advice. “Sometimes you’ve got to grab life by the balls,” he reasons. “Then you take those balls, you tuck them between your legs, and you put your best chuffing frock on!”
Welcome to the wonderfully OTT world of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. The film takes one of the biggest theatre phenomena of the last decade – the West End smash of the same name recently surpassed 1000 performances and earned an impressive five Olivier Award nods in 2018 – and reunites the production’s original creative team to faithfully adapt their own work for the screen: Jonathan Butterell returns as director, while the screenplay and lyrics are by book writer Tom MacRae, and music by The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells.
From the dazzlingly choreographed opening number ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’ (which features a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from Jamie Campbell, whose life and 2011 BBC Three documentary the stage show is based on), this musical offering makes no apologies. It’s campy, smart and deeply heartfelt – and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
Our hero is Jamie, a larger-than-life 16-year-old forever pushing some new dance routine or outfit on his classmates. His main ambition is that he wants to overcome prejudice by wearing a dress to his school prom, an action that perhaps wouldn’t seem as subversive in 2021 following a decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race bringing drag and gender-fluid fashion to the mainstream. But he finds his GCSE exams tougher than expected and is seemingly distracted by this secret mission, causing conflict with bullies, teachers, and his unaccepting father (Ralph Ineson), but bringing him closer to his mother (Sarah Lancashire).
Importantly, Jamie never once feels tormented by who he is and instead wants to learn more about those who have inspired him to hone his craft. When he finds a mentor in Hugo (played by a brilliantly sharp Richard E. Grant, who charms as his character’s alias, Loco Chanelle), their relationship pulls drag’s past into the present tense and acknowledges how the progression of the art form is fundamental to queer history.
During the heart-wrenching ‘This Was Me’, Hugo frames his stoic journey in the context of the HIV/Aids epidemic in the late 1980s, where he managed to find moments of galvanising fury and ecstatic joy while in the grip of debilitating disease. The editing moves fluidly between narrative and memory; John McCrea – who originally took on the stage show role in 2017 – appears as a younger Loco Chanelle, with club scenes that fade in and out, capturing him in drag, and dancing, partying, sweating at close-range.
But what feels the most inspiring about this film is how the uniform commitment of the cast allows the emotion to hit as hard as it does. When Pritti triggers a mini-revolution against Jamie’s naysayers at the prom – a stunning shock that challenges her teacher’s pet attitude – you realise that this is a tale of perseverance, hope, and genuine heart, and a real rush of vitality.
- Director: Jonathan Butterell
- Starring: Max Harwood, Richard E.Grant, Lauren Patel
- Release date: September 17 (on Amazon Prime Video)