Everybody’s Talking About Jamie review: A winning, feel-good number
James R | On 17, Sep 2021
Director: Jonathan Butterell
Cast: Max Harwood, Richard E Grant, Sarah Lancashire, Shobna Gulati, Lauren Patel
Where to watch Everybody’s Talking About Jamie online in the UK:
It’s been more than 10 years since a boy in Durham decided to attend his school prom in drag. Little did he know that he would inspire not just a documentary in 2011 but also a stage musical – Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – that opened on London’s West End six years later. Now, his legacy lives on in yet a new form, with a film based on the musical making its debut in cinemas and on Amazon Prime Video.
The movie follows Jamie New (Max Harwood), a boy who lives in Sheffield and dreams of becoming a drag queen, despite the backlash he faces from those around him. Except, well, the backlash isn’t quite what you expect – his friends and classmates are broadly accepting of him, with the exception of the token class bully Dean Paxton (Samuel Bottomley), and his mum (an impeccable Sarah Lancashire) is wonderfully warm and supportive, while her friend, Ray (the always-brilliant Shobna Gulati), is loudly encouraging. His best friend, Pritti (Lauren Patel), meanwhile, stands up for him whenever the opportunity arises.
The result is a strangely low-stakes coming-of-age story, which takes the edge off its emotional impact – but once you stop viewing the series through a Billy Elliot lens, there’s a more nuanced narrative that’s a moving and uplifting watch. That’s because the film’s real tension is rooted in Jamie’s battle for acceptance in himself – he can handle Dean Paxton’s derogatory remarks with sass, but he struggles when it comes to naming his drag queen alter-ego.
That’s partly because Jamie starts out wanting to be a drag queen less out of necessity and more out of the notion that it could become a successful career as a TV star or influencer – a savvy update of the stage show’s script by Tom MacRae (who wrote the original music with choreographer Jonathan Butterell and The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells), which takes into account the now-ubiquitous popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But as he dips his toe into drag waters, he is taken under the wing of a drag artist legend, Loco Chanelle, and finds himself learning about what drag means historically – and, as a result, what it can mean to him today.
The film does all this through the introduction of a new song, This Was Me, which is a poignant and thoughtful look back at the 1980s AIDS crisis and the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. It’s at once a history lesson and an intelligent dose of emotional and social context – and, best of all, it’s performed with aplomb by Richard E Grant, who sashays onto the screen as the ageing Loco and sows the seeds for the film’s real emotional core. He’s the polar opposite of Ralph Ineson as Jamie’s dad, who is appalled by his son’s lack of what he considers to be masculine qualities – and some of the most heart-wrenching moments come when the film is exploring the consequences of Jamie’s mum reacting to his dad’s rejection.
Less effective is the subplot involving Jamie’s teacher, played by Sharon Horgan, who disapproves of Jamie’s behaviour and clothing choices, but mostly comes across as uptight for the sake of narrative convenience. But thanks to a sparky script (Emmeline Pankhurst is described as “the Beyoncé of her day”) and Max Harwood’s charming lead performance as the boisterous 16-year-old, this musical is a winning, feel-good story that doesn’t just celebrate being and loving yourself, but also starts a conversation about what exactly that means today – in other words, it deserves to have everybody talking about it.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.