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Everybody's Talking About Jamie movie on Amazon Prime – review

The WhatsOnStage Award-winning musical heads for the screen

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The cast of Everybody's Talking About Jamie
© 2021 Monarchy Entertainment, John Rogers

"There's a clock on the wall and it's moving too slow..."

Given our mammoth wait for the Everybody's Talking About Jamie movie, the opening lyrics to Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae's "Don't Even Know It" feel all the more pertinent. Shifting away from a big-screen release to a streamed debut on Amazon Prime, the movie's moment has finally arrived. Out of the darkness, into the spotlight and all that.

Based on the true story of Sheffield-based teen Jamie Campbell, who wanted to go to prom in drag, the film has been lovingly adapted from its West End smash hit by director Jonathan Butterell (who helmed the stage show), with a large bulk of the show's catchy tunes in tow. Given Jamie's story started as a documentary, there's a neat symmetry for his life to end up back on screen.

The retention of many of the show's creative team is both the film's greatest strength and its smaller weakness: writer MacRae (who wrote the original book) has a real chance to comb through his work, adapting scenes, adding gut-punching moments (a sequence set in a football stadium is particularly memorable) and making sure a lot of the stage musical's humour survives its transition to the screen.

Jamie himself is also far more endearing – this is a boy not simply dreaming of a life as a drag queen, but also willing to work at his local shop, do a paper round and put in the time to earn the cash to succeed. There are also extra moments for Jamie's bigotted father and local bully Dean Paxton – some dialogue-free cutaways do entire scene's worth of exposition never found on stage.

Choreographer Kate Prince and cinematographer Christopher Ross have a blast with kinetic, creative numbers – "Spotlight" being a particularly sweet reinvention of a number that can feel a bit static on stage. They also straddle the perfect line between twee-musical fantasy and a grey, rain-swamped northern England town.

Max Harwood and Sarah Lancashire
© Monarchy Entertainment

On the downside, while Butterell has rightly cut a fair few musical numbers – including "If I Met Myself Again" and "Limited Edition Prom Night Special" – the film still loses some of the stage show's whip-sharp pacing, and the technicolour vibrance of Jamie's imagination is a rollercoaster to the more meandering dialogue scenes that last just that bit too long. It wouldn't be too tricky to shave a solid ten minutes off the film and still preserve its amiable nature.

Speaking of, Max Harwood leads the cast with understated, joyful charm – never overly extravagant but always laden with quiet, fiery energy. Jamie of the screen is different to that of the stage – in the latter, the character has to make sure his unwavering dreams can reach 1000 people, no matter where they are in an auditorium. Here, Harwood can achieve the same thing through a look, or a smile, or an eyebrow raise. Making his big-screen debut, you'd best be sure this Sheffield lad has a lengthy career ahead of him.

Speaking of debuts, Harwood is matched by a brilliant performance from Lauren Patel as his best friend Pritti Pasha – supporting Jamie while also fighting for her dreams of becoming a doctor. Elsewhere, Sarah Lancashire, Shobna Gulati (who has something of a smaller role here than she did on stage, one of the few cast members to play both mediums) and Sharon Horgan are all in fine form in supporting roles. Lancashire doing a fine job tackling big number "He's My Boy".

In contrast to the stage show, here you get to see Jamie's first drag appearance – eg, the one his entire school starts talking about. There are also some fantastic cameo moments, from Margaret Campbell (Jamie's original mum) and Drag Race star Bianca del Rio. Stage star Layton Williams gets to party on up, while original stage Jamie John McCrea appears in what can only be classed as the most affecting part of the film: gone is the bawdy extravagance of "The Legend of Loco Chanelle", replaced instead by a heart-pounding, tear-jerking disco ballad, sung by Frankie Goes to Hollywood vocalist Holly Johnson, exploring drag veteran Hugo's (Richard E Grant) early life against the backdrop of the AIDs epidemic. Grant balances aloof cynicism with earnest investment in Jamie's dreams – culminating in a splendid performance of ensemble number "Over the Top".

Jamie New's story may have found a place where it belonged on stage, but its leap to the screen, while not a surefire "Work of Art", still has some marvellous creative oomph.

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