Jamie Campbell’s story of determination first came to light in the 2011 BBC Three documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, which in turn inspired The Feeling‘s Dan Gillespie Sells and writer Tom MacRae. The duo went on to create the hit feel-good West End musical, which launched back in 2017, and continues to still be as popular today. Following the film adaptation’s UK premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival, it hits streaming service Amazon Prime later this week.
Directed by Jonathan Butterall (who previously directed the West End stage show), Everybody’s Talking at Jamie centres on 16 year old student Jamie New. Following a careers class at school, Jamie decides he wants to take a different path by becoming a drag queen. He sets his sites on attending the school prom in a dress, however his teacher (Sharon Horgan) notes she’ll ban him if he does, following a complaint from bully Dean Paxton (Samuel Bottomley). Undeterred, Jamie seeks out the help of former drag queen Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant) and best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel) along the way.
Butterall’s adaptation from stage to screen is, on the whole, a feel good and uplifting British flick about discovering and embracing your true self. It’s fantastic to see a mainstream musical film with a queer lead feature such a strong message about inclusivity and acceptance, as Jamie finds his place in the wider LGBTQ+ community. There’s a beautiful tenderness, which shines brightest in the central relationship between Jamie and his wonderfully supporting mum – who loves him for exactly who he is – balanced with a real joy and vibrancy of the drag sequences and some musical numbers.
Jamie’s resilience and resolve to not give up, proving himself to those who are bigoted and close-minded in his life, is an important arc which does, at times, lean into clichéd drama. The coming-of-age tale also has a tendency of straying into predictable narrative beats – with easy comparisons to the superior Billy Elliot – particularly concerning Jamie’s father. However, Richard E Grant’s drag shop owner and former performer Hugo Battersby adds a surprising amount of depth to proceedings in his “This Was Me” number. The character takes a trip down memory lane, briefly delving into the the political and social gay liberation movement, along with the heartbreaking AIDS epidemic.
Harwood leads with a heartfelt and spirited performance, particularly alongside newcomer Lauren Patel and the brilliant Sarah Lancashire. Her heartbreaking performance as a mum who’d go to any length to protect her son’s happiness, particularly as his father left when Jamie wasn’t the sporty son he’d always wanted, is the most developed aspect of the film. Grant is also a real joy, elevating the material with his poignant portrayal of a former drag queen who’s helps guide Jamie along his journey. Following his scene stealing performance in Loki, Grant is clearly having an absolute blast in the role (although his Sheffield accent is somewhat questionable!) However, the main antagonists do feel somewhat one-dimensional, with Sharon Horgan’s Miss Hedge and Samuel Bottomley’s bully Dean Paxton coming across as under-developed.
As a huge fan of musical theatre and films, I couldn’t wait to see how Butterall brought the musical numbers and choreography to the big screen. “And You Don’t Even Know It” is clearly the standout sequence, transforming the drab classroom setting with blue and pink lighting and choreographed dance sequences, transporting the class into a club dance floor and a cat walk. This fun dream sequence certainly pulls you in, with the upbeat and high energy continuing with the infectious title song “Everybody’s Talking at Jamie”, while Lancashire brings a tear to the eye with “He’s My Boy”. However, the other musical scenes do feel a bit of a let down in comparison, constrained with the grounded settings and small scale, lacking that certain wow factor.
Featuring a joyful and uplifting message of acceptance, along with a handful of infectious musical numbers, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a fun adaptation, which doesn’t quite reach the heights of the West End musical.