Review | ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is a joy to watch

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie | On Amazon Prime | ★ ★ ★ ★   

The delivery of the film version of musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has been delayed many times due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and finally audiences can see it through streaming service Amazon Prime.

The musicals journey to the screen however has been a lightening fast ride. The musical had its premiere at The Crucible Theatre in early 2017 before progressing to London’s West End. An Australian tour was planned for 2020, but was postponed, and the musical has been also been performed in Korea.

The launch of a film version within four years of it’s premiere is an outstanding achievement, when you consider it took Cats 38 years to make it to the screen, Sweeny Todd and Into The Woods both took 28 years to make the journey from stage to screen, and many of Broadways most successful shows have never made the transition.

The musical centres on Sheffield school boy Jamie New. It’s his birthday, he’s turning sixteen years old. He lives in England with his mother Margaret, and is the only openly gay kid at his school and is frequently picked on because of it. His only friend at school is Pritti, who is also picked up for being Muslim.

At school, his teacher Miss Hedge admonishes the class about not wanting to grow up to be YouTubers and sports stars but instead having realistic career goals. Jamie pretends to agree with her, but secretly he dreams of being a drag queen.

When his Mum gives him a birthday gift that encourages him to follow his dream, he sets off and finds a mentor in Hugo, a retired drag queen who runs a dress shop. By taking to the stage Jamie builds the confidence to be himself and stand up to others.

The inspiration for the story was a BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 about real life teenager Jamie Campbell.

This is the first film from director Jonathan Butterell, who developed the stage production alongside composer Dan Gillespie Sells and writer Tom MacRae. In making the transition from stage to screen there are some new numbers and a lot of the plot has been tightened up.

Film musicals need new numbers because many awards won’t recognise songs from stage productions. Andrew Lloyd Webber added You Must Love Me to Evita, while  Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote two new songs for the film version Hairspray. It’s also a chance to drop numbers that don’t advance the plot or just aren’t earworms.

The film version of Everybody’s Taking About Jamie gets a brand new song for drag mentor Hugo. In the stage version he recounted his days in the spotlight with The Legend of Loco Chanel, this is switched out for This Was Me, a new song that allows the characters to revisit the days of Section 28 protests in England, and the impact of the AIDS crisis. Part of the song is sung by former Frankie Goes to Hollywood vocalist Holly Johnston, giving the presentation authenticity.

It’s just one of three songs that are dumped for improved storytelling. Also absent is a large section of the musicals opening number Don’t Even Know It. Previously this song had a rap section performed by teacher Miss Hedge, which to many fans was one of the great moments of the musical – it’s been cut! It’s a creative decision that’ll be debated for years to come, and there’s already a lot of social media posts asking why?

A first rate cast has been brought together for the film. Newcomers Max Horwood and Lauren Patel plays Jamie and best Pritti Pasha. Richard E Grant delivers his campest role since Pret a Porter as Hugo.

Sarah Lancashire plays Jamie’s mum Margaret, and Shobna Gulati appears as her best friend Ray. Gulati is one of the few actors from the stage production to make the transfer to the screen.

John McCrea, the actor who first played Jamie New on state, appears as the younger version of Loco Channel in flashback sequences, and it’s great to see him being included in the action. Drag star Bianca Del Rio also pops up, she’s previously played the part of Hugo in the stage production.

The role of Jamie’s homophobic and absent father is played by Game of Thrones actor Ralph Ineson.  Samuel Bottomley plays school bully Dean Paxton and Sharon Horgan is Careers teacher with great shoes – Miss Hedge.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a feel good sing-a-long that tackles some well known themes of self-love, confidence, bullying and having ambitions. It’s a lot of fun and worth watching.

Graeme Watson

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