Director: Jonathan Butterell
Date: Sept. 17, 2021
PG-13 | 2 hours
For “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” a musical adapted from the real-life story of Jamie Campbell, it’s not all about firsts.
Yes, this may be Jonathan Butterell’s directorial debut and the first film-acting gig for Max Harwood and Lauren Patel; but, it’s also a movie-musical grounded in classic themes, such as identity, beauty and the journey to “fully arrive” in oneself, according to Butterell.
“This feels like a universal story to tell,” Butterell said at a college roundtable interview. “I felt like I had a thousand hands on my back saying, ‘We support you. We’re holding you.’”
The story follows 16-year-old Jamie New (Harwood) as he pursues his career goal of becoming a drag queen. Set in Sheffield, England, Jamie tackles insecurities and unsupportive community members as he fights to wear a red dress and heels to his Year 11 (high school sophomore) prom.
The film will be released Sept. 10 at Lake View’s Landmark Century Centre and Sept. 17 on Amazon Prime.
The movie diverts from its two predecessors — the 2011 TV documentary “Jamie: Drag Queen at 16” and the 2017 West End musical — because it can reach a wider audience, Butterell said. Other creative liberties taken from the documentary include the addition of Pritti Pasha, Jamie’s best friend, and all the scenes inside the school.
Adapting the theater production to the screen was equally “exhilarating and terrifying,” the first-time movie director said.
“Unlike theater where there’s always tomorrow, there’s never tomorrow in filming,” Butterell said. “You’re always against that amazing ticking clock.”
From the school platitude posters to the complicated relationship between a mother and son, from the high school wannabe-influencer twins to the explosive glitter and music, the film is glamorously realistic.
Part of the realism isn’t exclusive to the real life of Jamie New; the setting and story of being unashamedly oneself are personal to Butterell.
He also grew up in Sheffield, a populous, working-class city in Northern England, and his Auntie Joan lived on the film’s street. Butterell recounted his experience marching against Section 28 — a British law that banned the promotion of homosexuality from the late ’80s to the early aughts — and why it was important to include the turbulent history of LGBTQ+ rights into the otherwise youthful story.
“We went out in the streets and marched,” Butterell said. “That was also at the time that HIV was so prevalent and we were losing friends. I wanted to make sure that story was told and communicated to this [younger] generation.”
When he stumbled upon the documentary, Butterell said Campbell’s courage spoke to him.
“It’s a story about a young effeminate hero and I feel I’ve never really seen that story being told,” Butterell said, who’s been in the theater business for 30 years. “The effeminate young man, he’s always often sidelined.”
The movie works to disprove that stereotype. In the adaptation, Jamie sets a precedent for an openly gay protagonist who’s “not a victim of his queerness,” according to Harwood, who Vogue tapped as one of 2021’s rising stars.
“For me, also, it wasn’t a coming-out story,” Butterell said. “I feel like those stories have been told and been told wonderfully, but I didn’t want to tell it again. I wanted to tell the story of a 16-year-old boy who’s openly gay who hadn’t arrived in himself fully.”
So, if it’s neither a coming-out story nor a coming-of-age one, then what exactly is it? Patel, who plays Jamie’s best friend Pritti, explains.
Patel: “It’s a human, grounded story — and then there’s lots of glitter.”