WORTH A LOOK?: *****
John McCrea originated the part of Jamie in the Sheffield and West End productions of this musical and for us his appearance in the film’s most moving segment illustrates beautifully one of the piece’s themes about passing on the wisdom about gay life from 1 generation to the next.
- Read on for reasons including how to see Jamie songwriter Dan Gillespie Sells’ band The Feeling on tour next year
Jamie won our Best New Musical monsta in 2017 and when we travelled from London to see it in its original form at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre we predicted it would transfer easily into London’s West End.
Reading that review back now we could never have dreamed that 4-and-a-half years later the film version would be released and stage show director Jonathan Butterell would have been at its helm.
The Legend Of Loco Chanel was always 1 of our favourite numbers from the musical because it was the backstory of drag shop owner Hugo Battersby and it was a brave decision to cast E Grant in that role but also to swap out that song for new number This Was Me which is a far more universal take on the idea behind Loco.
In the film McCrea (main picture and immediately above) plays the young Chanel as we travel back in time via VHS videotape to the 80s and 90s at a time when Queen’s Freddie Mercury, Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher, Section 28 and AIDS all played a part in a gay life than was far less comfortable than 2021.
1 of the successes of the musical is that there have been multiple Jamies now and it feels like the right decision to pause the West End production as the film is released, the stage production tours the UK and a version opens in the US next year.
This story of a Sheffield 16-year-old who is already out and happy but wants to try on a dress and high heels is a universal 1 gaining more mainstream success with the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which returns to BBC3 on Thursday, and Harwood is a good choice as the maturing teen who is growing up fast and seeking guidance.
Lancashire is fabulous casting as his mother and her performance of He’s My Boy reminds of 60s Dusty Springfield as was intended and cements the actress as one of this country’s best loved for good reason.
We saw US Drag Race winner Bianca del Rio on our 4th visit to the show in 2019 when she starred alongside Steps’ Faye Tozer and we’re delighted that she’s back in the touring production and also makes a brief cameo in this film as does fellow drag legend Myra Dubois.
We wondered whether E Grant could do a Yorkshire accent and pull off the drag moments required but he’s hugely convincing here in a film which builds on the fantasy sequences of the musical and better realises the sequences that seemed inspired by pop videos.
Inevitably there are minor quibbles along the way. Shobna Gulati is brilliant as Ray, a part she’d played on stage, but the character’s part is less realised here on film than it was on stage.
Jamie’s complicated relationship with bully Dean Paxton, given a rounded performance by Samuel Bottomley, is better explained here and resolved more nicely.
One of the musical’s highlights, Beautiful sung by Jamie’s best friend here played by Lauren Patel, remains touchingly realised.
We really weren’t sure how successful this film version of the beloved musical would be but we’d needn’t have feared because it’s a triumph and that Jamie juggernaut is as unstoppable as it ever was.