In 2011, the inspiring story of Jamie Campbell was the subject of BBC Three’s Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. Growing up in a market town in County Durham, Jamie had to overcome bullying and small-town small mindedness to step ‘out of the darkness and into the spotlight’ and achieve his dream of being a fierce and iconic drag queen – at, yes, the age of 16.
The uplifting tale soon became a hugely successful stage musical, premiering in Sheffield in February 2017 before transferring to the West End and ultimately embarking on a UK tour (that would be tragically cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic). It was only a matter of time before the silver screen would come calling – and now, a decade after the original television special aired, Jamie’s story has been adapted to film. And the result is one of the most joyously charming and life-affirming musicals in years.
The film follows Jamie (newcomer Max Harwood, who thoroughly impresses) as he embarks on his journey to become a drag queen with the loving support of his single mother (Sarah Lancashire) and best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel), under the mentorship of ageing queen Loco Chanelle (Richard E. Grant). But with obnoxious school bully Dean (Samuel Bottomley) and cruel, distant father (Ralph Ineson) belittling his journey, will he find the courage to be who he wants to be?
Packed with triumphant pop anthems of courage and self-acceptance, with lavishly shot and choreographed performances covered in glitter and sequins, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a charmingly campy romp that is simply bursting with infectious joy. But, like in the stage production, it is the more tender and intimate numbers that strike the biggest chords. “It Means Beautiful” remains a highlight, while the new composition written for the film – “This Was Me” – sees Grant’s Loco/Hugo reflecting on the AIDS crisis and LGBTQ scene in the 1980s. It is a truly affecting sequence that feels like a musical summation of Channel 4’s recent television drama It’s a Sin.
Any criticisms of the film can be applied to the source material – it is formulaic and predictable, and perhaps a little too cheesy in its’ self-defiant sentimentality. But this is a glossy and optimistic musical bursting with joy that couldn’t have come at a better time. As we continue to find ourselves in difficult times, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie presents a much-needed slice of cinematic escapism that inspires kindness, understanding, and being yourself. It’s a truly wonderful film that couldn’t have come at a better time.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie launches on Prime Video, 17 September 2021