Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is showing now on Amazon Prime and in selected cinemas nationwide.
The journey from stage to screen is never easy for any musical. Often, the very things that make a stage musical successful fail to translate; look at the infuriatingly awful Cats. However, occasionally movies get it right, for example, West Side Story, Oliver, Rent and Chicago; these movie musicals build on the narrative strength of the stage shows they represent, expanding the characters beyond the footlights.
Based on the BBC Three documentary, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, broadcast in 2011, Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae’s musical adaptation proudly took the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield by storm in February 2017. Soon after, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie would do the same in London, becoming one of the biggest West End hits of 2017 and 2018.
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The Warp Pictures and Film 4 movie adaptation of Sells and MacReae’s musical was first announced in 2018 and would initially find a home with 20th Century Fox before transferring to Disney after the Fox merger. However, during the hiatus of COVID-19, Disney’s 20th Century Studios decided to relinquish the distribution rights, with Prime Video quickly stepping in. This decision would lead Everybody’s Talking About Jamie to a disappointing straight-to-streaming premiere. Despite showing on a handful of cinema screens nationwide, I fear this will affect people’s experience of the movie; after all, musicals are designed to be watched on a big screen with panoramic sound.
But, discussions on streaming versus cinema aside, Butterell’s film adaptation holds on tight to the original stage production and, in turn, avoids any significant stumbling blocks. Attempt’s to build upon the stage shows core story are minor but do add some depth, especially in exploring Jamie’s complicated relationship with his absent dad. But all in all, Butterell’s film is a celebration of the musical and the foundations that made it a West End smash hit. As a result, we are offered a bright, colourful and gloriously rich film adaptation that shines with love, energy and humour.
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There are times when Butterell’s film lacks the emotional punch of the original stage production, and this is mainly due to a need to keep the audience engaged through visuals in some of the more powerful ballads. For example, ‘It Means Beautiful’ drifts away from Pritti (Lauren Patel), while ‘He’s My Boy’ does the same with Jamie’s mum (Sarah Lancashire). This lessens the impact of both songs and occasionally creates an emotional void in the story.
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However, despite this flaw, there’s no doubting the talent on display in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and the engaging, feel-good vibes of the final film. Jamie may lack the emotional weight of the stage show, but the colourful cinematography and toe-tapping numbers don’t disappoint, and this is due to some genius casting. The decision to place an unknown actor in the role of Jamie came with risks. But Max Harwood is utterly compelling with a joyous performance and exquisite singing voice that brings each song to life. At the same time, the ensemble is equally stunning, with superb performances from Richard E Grant, Sarah Lancashire, Shobna Gulati and Lauren Patel.
Despite the lack of the cinema outing it so truly deserved, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a joy that deserves to reach as many young people through streaming as possible. After all, in a society that still forces too many young people to hide their unique and beautiful differences, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie encourages them to bring their light to the surface. Butterell’s movie is bold, proud and loud, so dust off your high heels and get ready to celebrate the beauty of difference and the electricity of Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae’s award-winning musical.