IANS Review: ‘Everybody is Talking About Jamie’: Exuberant music with unconventional plot (IANS Rating: ****)

Film: Everybody is Talking about Jamie (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

Duration: 116 minutes

Director: Jonathan Butterell

Cast: Max Harwood, Sarah Lancashire, Lauren Patel, Shobna Gulati, Ralph Ineson, Adeel Akhtar, Samuel Bottomley, Sharon Horgan and Richard E. Grant

IANS Rating: ****

This exuberant, coming-of-age musical with an unconventional story set in the small British town of Sheffield, is a feel-good film that touches your heart. With 19 songs embedded in a formulaic plot, the film focuses on the triumphs and difficulties a drag queen faces in life.

Inspired by the true story of Margaret and Jamie Campbell a.k.a. Fifi la True, this film starring Max Harwood as the teenager Jamie New, who dreams of life on stage as a drag queen, is a delight to watch. How with the support of his best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel), his loving mum Margaret (Sarah Lancashire) and mentor Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant) who was the local drag legend, Miss Loco Chanelle, Jamie accomplishes his dream, forms the crux of the narrative.

Jamie’s trip in life is definitely not about his sexuality, (he affirms that he is not gay) but is certainly about his ambition. And this is very evident, when he tells Pritti, “No, it is fun, it’s wonderful. I want to be a drag queen, you can do that you know, get infamous, make some money.”

One of the reasons why this film does well is because of Max Harwood’s performance. With his tall, slender and naturally striking charisma, he engages the audience from the very onset of the narrative. As an unapologetically queer character with oodles of self-confidence, he shines the brightest during the song-and-dance numbers and proves to be capable in the dramatic sequences as well.

Jamie is, “just a boy in the dress,” and his greatest obstacle is internal, and Harwood reflects this effortlessly.

Equally captivating is Richard E. Grant as the loveable Hugo Battersby who tells his backstory and the dark history of the HIV/AIDS crisis through the song ‘This was me’ which was visually supported by documented video footage of 1988 to 1991. As Jamie’s mentor, he imparts to Jamie the knowledge that drag queens are warriors. “Shoot first or they’ll shoot you down,” he advises, which Jamie does fearlessly.

Sarah Lancashire too delivers a solid performance as Jamie’s supportive mum who is conflicted about how to approach several situations: from encouraging Jamie with his cross-dressing to covering up for the missing dad in Jamie’s life.

Ralph Ineson as Jamie’s dad disapproving of his son’s queerness, is shortchanged by the script. Lauren Patel displays with aplomb the rawness of Pritti Pasha, who has her own acceptability issues.

Samuel Bottomley is dull and ineffective as the school bully Dean Paxton, who professes that if Jamie is allowed to dress like a girl, he would not participate in the school prom. Similarly, Sharon Horgan is clichéd as the uninspiring, Miss Hedge, the school’s strict teacher, who is ever ready to support the bullies.

With excellent production values, the film is well-mounted. And most of the songs with meaningful lyrics, stand out. The titular number is performed like a high-school musical, staged on the school campus. It is the bouncy number, ‘I am so cli, cli, cliché,’ that sets the ball rolling for wonderful, exciting entertainment.