The British are rather good at making small films about winning over adversity. Perhaps it’s something in the national character. A good result may be savoured but not too ostentatiously. There’s a difference between success and triumphalism. One is a result, the other is an attitude. I think of delightful films like Local Hero, Bend It Like Beckham, Kinky Boots and Billy Elliott among many others. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which is streaming now on Amazon Prime, fits well into this highly enjoyable group.
Jamie is based on a true story. Jamie New, a boy from North East England, had come out as gay at 14 and, when he was 16, wanted to go to his school’s prom wearing a dress. This did not go down well with the authorities. A BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 told his story, which was later the basis for the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (which was a hit in the West End and was scheduled to come to Australia last year but which has been postponed due to COVID). I don’t think it’s giving anything away to reveal that the real Jamie prevailed and indeed found he had many more people on his side than he might have thought.
Only those with a heart of stone would fail to be moved by Jamie’s courage, buoyed by his mother’s unwavering love. Only those without a pulse would fail to quicken to the charms of newcomer Max Harwood as Jamie. He has the face of an angel, Bambi eyes, plenty of pluck and the inner light of a lad not yet crushed by adversity. The film celebrates those positives, choosing to tread lightly when it comes to the inevitable bullying that comes Jamie’s way. The hardships aren’t exactly ignored but the film is on a determined trajectory towards the fulfilment of Jamie’s dream. There is a great deal of stardust sprinkled about.
Director Jonathan Butterell (who also helmed the stage musical) gets away with it – just. He and screenwriter Tom MacRae certainly don’t mind being over-explanatory and the film could do with more emotional complexity. There is however, some salvation in the form of Richard E. Grant as former drag queen Loco Chanelle aka Hugo Battersby, who becomes Jamie’s mentor. Grant is given a new song, This Was Me, which is the springboard for a brief but deeply moving depiction of early gay activism and the AIDS epidemic. Grant is no singer and vocals are taken mainly by Frankie Goes to Hollywood frontman Holly Johnson, but the frailty of Grant’s voice is touching in this context.
Other key roles are taken brilliantly. Sarah Lancashire is Jamie’s mother Margaret, overflowing with love for her clever, creative son. Lauren Patel is adorable as Jamie’s friend and fellow outsider Pritti (she’s a hijab-wearing Muslim), and Shobna Gulati is Margaret’s effervescent friend Ray. This is another hallmark of the small British film – marvellous performances from top to bottom.
The soundtrack of original songs (by MacRae and Dan Gillespie Sells) and existing material is lively and engaging. Along with This Was Me, Pritti’s It Means Beautiful is a winner and Patel sings it gorgeously. The choreography and musical staging do the job without knocking your socks off but fair enough. They are in keeping with the modesty of this sweet, uplifting story.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.