Everybody’s Talking About Jamie: An exuberant crowd-pleaser

Review: 1980s-set musical about teenage drag artist deserves a bigger audience

Everybody's Talking about Jamie
    
Director: Jonathan Butterell
Cert: Club
Genre: Musical
Starring: Max Harwood, Sarah Lancashire, Lauren Patel, Shobna Gulati, Ralph Ineson, Adeel Akhtar, Samuel Bottomley, Sharon Horgan, Richard E. Grant, John McCrea, Bianca Del Rio
Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins

This This big-screen adaptation of the wildly popular West End musical has, to date, suffered more trials and tribulations than its aspiring drag queen teenage hero. The Fox production was twice postponed by acquiring parent company Disney, then removed from the release slate last May and sold to Amazon Studios. That’s a great pity, as Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a sure-fire post-Covid crowd-pleaser.

The film is based on the BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, features a score by The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells, playful lyrics and book by Tom MacRae, and a 1980s-style torch song (This Was Me) performed by Richard E Grant and Holly Johnson. The film is a flamboyant delight from its fierce opener (And You Don’t Even Know It) to its uplifting finale (Out of the Darkness; A Place Where We Belong).

Talented newcomer Max Harwood plays Jamie (a role originated by Olivier Award-nominated John McCrea, who cameos here), a sweet teenager who dreams of sashaying away from his Sheffield comprehensive and into a world of feathers and sparkle.

Jamie is surrounded by supportive women, including his doting mum (Sarah Lancashire), adopted auntie (Shobna Gulati) and his best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel), another ambitious outsider who dreams of being a doctor. Additional assistance is provided by retired local drag queen Loco Chanelle (Grant). Less helpful parties include his homophobic father (Ralph Ineson), a well-meaning careers teacher (Sharon Horgan) and school bully (Samuel Bottomley).


Jamie, like the film around him, is as sensitive as he is sassy. A teenager finding his place in the world, even the ruby platforms that his mother gifts him don’t provide a suitable solution, especially when Jamie decides to attend his school prom in drag.

Meryl Streep might have had a ball but the similarly themed The Prom felt just a little smug in its critique of celebrity tub-thumping. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, for all its razzle-dazzle, never loses sight of its northern working-class roots. Paper rounds and extra shifts are required for glittery purchases in Jamie’s world. The array of small, meaningful presents assembled by his mother for his birthday and the bins that need taking out provide a pleasing kitchen sink undertow. More meaningfully, at a moment when drag is a tea-time telly family entertainment, the film reconnects with militant queer history and a time when make-up was warpaint in every sense.

Original stage director Jonathan Butterell, choreographer Kate Prince, production designer Jane Levick and costume designer Guy Speranza work hard to preserve the sense of dreary school art rooms transforming, as if by magic, into musical fantasias.

If everybody isn’t talking about Jamie, they really should be.

Streaming from September 17th

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic