Hunky Dory

Fri, Mar 2, 2012, 00:00

Directed by Marc Evans. Starring Minnie Driver, Aneurin Barnard, Haydn Gwynne, Kimberley Nixon, Robert Pugh, Steve Speirs 15A cert, Cineworld/Screen, Dublin, 109 min

WHAT A strange career Marc Evans has had. After emerging with violent films such as Resurrection Manand My Little Eye, the Welshman moved on to a drama concerning autism ( Snow Cake) and a documentary about miscarriages of justice ( In Prison My Whole Life). Now, he has knocked together a charming film set in the long hot summer of 1976.

Even his best friends would struggle to deny that Hunky Doryfeels a tad familiar: a hit US television series has dealt with school students finding redemption through popular song, and the setting casts up memories of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s unsatisfactory Cemetery Junction.But the film is so winningly played and so drenched in heat-haze nostalgia that it’s hard to resist.

Minnie Driver plays a liberated teacher – all flowing fabric and flyaway hair – attempting to stage a rock version of The Tempestin a working-class Welsh school. It hardly needs to be said that stuffy colleagues regard her efforts as impossibly dangerous. Sure enough, the lead actor soon becomes attracted to his director and the girl playing Miranda gets involved in a series of interlocking romantic triangles. A gang of racist skinheads (incorporating, rather too inevitably, the play’s Caliban) circles menacingly in the scorched undergrowth.

We twig we’re not watching the era’s most subtle film when, in the opening scene, the most sensitive boy in school announces that his favourite musician is David Bowie. (Now, what secret can he be hiding?) And some of the dialogue – “He’s lost the plot, big time” – feels more than a little anachronistic.

These quibbles do not, however, diminish the delightful ambience established by Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s camerawork and

Joby Talbot’s winning musical arrangements. The film-makers may, perhaps, have been listening to the recordings of contemporaneous children collected on The Langley Schools Music ProjectLP. The versions of tunes such as Life on Marsand Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)manage that same combination of fragility and uncertainty.

It’s all very lovely and very sad. Cynics need not apply. Aging softies will almost certainly yield to Evans’s warm sensibilities.