Everybody's Talking About Jamie (3 stars)

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

A star is born in Max Harwood in this endearing adaptation of the smash-hit stage musical

'Sometimes Pritti Pasha, you gotta grab life by the balls. You take those balls, you tuck 'em between your legs and you put your best chuffin' frock on,' Jamie New tells his best friend in this mischievous musical dramedy that's all about finding the strength to stand apart. Jamie is played by charismatic newcomer Max Harwood, a real find who brings confidence, subtlety and singing chops to the table. Another first-timer, Jonathan Butterell, making his feature debut, transfers Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae's smash-hit West End musical to the screen after directing it for the stage.

'This story really happened. Then we added the songs,' reads the opening text as the film opens amidst the streets of suburban Sheffield. Its protagonist is 16-year-old Jamie, the son of indomitable single mum Margaret (the peerless Sarah Lancashire). He's openly gay and keen to realise his ambition as a drag queen, making him an easy target for school bullies like Dean (Samuel Bottomley). Jamie's best friend Pritti (a very sweet Lauren Patel) is the class swot, while his mum's own best pal Ray (Corrie's Shobna Gulati, who also starred in the stage production) fills the hole that Jamie's estranged and small-minded father, Wayne (Ralph Ineson), left behind. Jamie also finds a mentor in Richard E. Grant's Hugo and his drag alter-ego Loco Chanelle.

The film has a similar plot to Ryan Murphy's star-spangled The Prom – which also originated on stage – and does compare unfavourably with such Hollywood pizzazz and production value. However, there's a lot of charm in this less flashy British take on being true to yourself, regardless of what people say, which at least feels close to the origins of the story: a 2011 BBC Three documentary called Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 (which is available to watch via iPlayer).

The cinematically inexperienced Butterell doesn't leave a huge impression as a director, struggling to make the outlandishness and humdrum environs gel, or at least create an interesting contrast. He's not helped by the sometimes poorly fleshed out narrative, which leaves the songs to do the emotional heavy lifting and feels inadequate when dealing with something like Wayne's rejection of his son.

However, the tunes are largely fabulous, catchy-as-hell and cleverly constructed, while the film has some fun with location shifts, as it expands its horizons beyond what's possible in a stage production. 'And You Don't Even Know It' makes a rousing opening number, but its new song 'This Was Me', written especially for the film, that's the highlight. Poignantly sung by Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Holly Johnson, with additional vocals by Grant, it's wrapped around old VHS footage of 80s protests and AIDS crisis anguish, adding dramatic heft to Jamie's own fight for acceptance, as it makes him part of a tradition of hard-won battles against bigotry.

Available to watch in selected cinemas and on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 17 September.

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • UK / US
  • 1h 55min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Jonathan Butterell
  • Written by: Tom MacRae, Dan Gillespie Sells
  • Cast: Max Harwood, Lauren Patel, Richard E Grant
  • UK release: 17 September 2021

Film adaptation of the celebrated musical about a teenager from Sheffield who dreams of being a drag queen.