Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: Amazon Studios
"Drag's not just a TV show, it's a revolution," declares main character Jamie in the new film adaptation of hit West End show Everybody's Talking About Jamie.
It's a razor-sharp and absolutely accurate line of dialogue that sums up why this film needs to exist.
Granted, the shadow of Drag Race looms large over the art form, with past and future Drag Race UK stars overunning last night's Jamie premiere in London. But as Lawrence Chaney et al recently pointed out to their credit, the sisterhood extends far beyond the RPDR franchise.
As such, last night was really about big-voiced Jamie star Max Harwood, who carries this film deftly, and the real-life Jamie Campbell, whose undeniably inspiring story was the basis of 2011 BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen At 16.
This in turn inspired the musical, the brainchild of The Feeling's Dan Gillespie Sells (music) and Tom MacRae (book and lyrics). Both return for this Jonathan Butterell-directed film. Dan and the likes of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Holly Johnston round out the soundtrack nicely - in fact the latter's contribution, a heartbreaking ballad about the passage of time called 'This Was Me', soundtracks the film's most pivotal moment.
The plot, however - heartwarming and authentic though it is - remains thin. This writer expected as much, and was braced for disaster.
However, at its popcorny, crowd-pleasery best, this isn't a problem. And with its many queer themes, it's full of meaning and depth regardless. (Good for educating the grandparents, this one). It only faulters when it aims for gritty, Billy Elliot-style realism.
For example, by the film's end, the state of Jamie's strained relationship with his father - an intense Ralph Ineson, making an outsized mark in only a few scenes - is scrambled and confused. An overblown sequence featuring the pair at a football game, which answers no questions while posing new ones about Jamie's mental state, belongs to another film.
Richard E. Grant, however, brings dramatic heft in spades. As Hugo Battersby/Loco Chanelle, Jamie's ageing drag mentor - despite charging him £250 for a dress! - he'll make you laugh and cry.
He sings the aforementioned 'This Was Me': replaying his youth, from his rise on the drag scene to the effects of HIV/AIDS on his inner circle. It's absolutely devastating - a real Anne Hathaway 'I Dreamed a Dream' in Les Mis moment worthy of awards. Grant is near-flawless throughout - although a thicker Sheffield accent would've been welcome.
The similarly-reliable Sarah Lancashire plays to type but packs a punch as Jamie's mum Margaret. Her big moment, radiating the heaviness of life as she sings direct to camera, is again tear-inducing. There's more top-tier talent in Shobna Gulati as Margaret's brassy friend Ray, and Sharon Horgan as Jamie's villainous careers advisor Miss Hedge, although both are curiously underused. Elsewhere, Jamie's classmates are largely bland and undefined - although Lauren Patel is endearing as Jamie's BFF Pritti.
The only real problem, though, is the lack of drag. Jamie only turns a single look, aside from a comically anticlimactic knee-length dress at the film's end.
This should, really, prove a fatal flaw. But the acting is so strong, and Max is so well-cast, it easily overcomes it. Glossy direction and a lack of dud songs seal the deal: this is one of the LGBTQ films of the year.
Everybody's Talking About Jamie is out on Amazon Prime UK on Friday 17 September 2021.
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