Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’s film adaptation demonstrates what all good musical theatre films need: a coherent narrative drive
Starring Max Harwood, Sarah Lancashire, Lauren Patel, Shobna Gulati, Ralph Ineson, Adeel Akhtar, Samuel Bottomley, Sharon Horgan, and Richard E. Grant
There is a reason that the rags-to-riches tale is so enduring a concept. It strikes a particular resonance with an audience. An aspirational, heartwarming glow to bask in another’s reflected achievement. Coming-of-age stories are a similarly well-worn trope and help the viewer to take stock of their own development. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie appeals to both of these sensibilities as Jamie New (Max Harwood) blooms in confidence from an ambitious, slightly unsure aspiring drag queen to a full-fledged fierce femme fatale, completely embracing all aspects of their self expression.
There is nothing that Jamie New wants for his sixteenth birthday more than a pair of glittery red heels. Just like those that surround him, Jamie has big dreams for his future. Instead of wishing to be a YouTuber or singer, however, Jamie aspires to be a drag queen. The subject of ridicule from his schoolmates and harbouring deep seated scars from desperately trying to attain his homophobic father’s (Ralph Ineson) approval and love, Jamie struggles with his confidence, even though he assuredly struts within his own imagination.
With his tremendous support system of single mother Margaret (Sarah Lancashire), her best friend Ray (Shobna Gulati) and his own best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel), who understands what it feels like to be an outcast, Jamie starts to learn to be unapologetically authentic. While shopping for a costume for his first drag act, he meets his own fairy godmother, in the form of ex-drag queen Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant), who helps shape Jamie into their own drag persona.
2021 seems to have seen the resurgence of the musical film. With the film adaptations of Dear Evan Hansen, In the Heights, Tick, Tick…Boom! and another adaptation of West Side Story – and many more set to grace screens in 2022 – it seems that the public appetite for a (good) musical film is higher than ever before.
Despite the presence of a dedicated fanbase for the stage musical, creating a musical film isn’t as simple as copying the stage production. This necessitates the removal of several songs from the soundtrack, such as Margaret’s lamenting “If I Met Myself Again” and the retooling of Hugo’s introductory number “The Legend of Coco Chanelle (and the Blood Red Dress)”. Even though there will doubtless be many fans disappointed by these choices, it is clear that director Butterell has a clear narrative drive in mind for this film.
That is the benefit of having the original stage creatives involved with this screen adaptation. With book writer Tom MacRae providing the script and stage director Jonathan Butterell in his feature film debut, there is a clear sense that both understand the focus of the story that they are trying to tell. While the stage musical benefits from having a far increased runtime than can be afforded within a film and is thus able to lend more focus towards more characters, Butterell uses the opportunity of the change of medium to hone in more closely to Jamie’s development. Every musical number is used perfectly and furthers our understanding of Jamie’s character and ongoing trajectory. Even songs which are not necessarily about him in the musical, such as “It Means Beautiful” and “He’s My Boy”, make Jamie the focus here through clever use of editing. Even though these songs are sung by Pritti and Margaret, it is clear that these moments are about Jamie’s growth.
Butterell also uses good use of flashback, elevating middling song “Wall in My Head” into something quite poignant, as Jamie reflects upon the barriers that have been erected for him within his own past by his father trying to force him into more masculine activities. Overall, Butterell manages to create a visual and musical language within the film that help the array of musical moments make sense. The story moves seamlessly from musical moment into scenes without appearing jarring and also manages to incorporate Jamie’s fantasy sequences into this effectively.
A particularly powerful addition to the film is “This Was Me”: the audience’s introduction to Hugo’s drag persona Loco Chanelle (played by original Jamie New John McCrea). This sequence gives the audience a better understanding of the revolutionary act of drag, and its political connotations, highlighting the courage that it took to proudly and confidently represent oneself authentically. With the backdrop of AIDS in the periphery, it truly helps to contextualise the tremendous importance of drag. It’s not just men in heels and a dress. It is symbolic of radical change, of revolutionary movement and is critically important within the queer community, both historically and presently.
The cohesive tale that MacRae and Butterell collaborate to portray culminates in a brilliantly moving, jubilant finale. Dazzling, uplifting and full of heart, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a must-see for fans of the musical but also manages to enhance what was already present, to make a far more focused and nuanced end product.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is streaming now on Amazon Prime.