out of Five
Running time: 110
Warmly directed and engagingly written, this is a hugely enjoyable coming-of-age drama with a terrific central performance from Minnie Driver and stunning musical sequences performed by a talented cast of young unknowns.
What's it all about?
Directed by Welshman Marc Evans (My Little Eye), Hunky Dory is set in Swansea during the scorching summer of 1976, where unorthodox, free-spirited schoolteacher Vivienne Mae (Minnie Driver) is attempting to put on an ambitious Tommy-style rock opera version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, featuring contemporary hits performed with a school orchestra. Viv faces staunch opposition from various uptight members of staff (including Haydn Gwynne as Mrs Valentine and Steve Speirs as Mr Cafferty) but catches a break when she persuades the headmaster (Robert Pugh) to play Prospero.
Meanwhile, Viv's disparate class of students are all experiencing a variety of typical coming-of-age problems: lead actor Davey (Aneurin Barnard) has family problems and an unrequited crush on his leading lady Stella (Danielle Branch); sensitive Evan (Tomos Harries) has to break it to his smitten best friend Dena (Kayleigh Bennett) that he doesn't like girls; volatile outsider Kenny (Darren Evans) starts hanging around with older skinheads and getting into fights; and nice guy Jake (George MacKay) starts seeing the sister (Kimberley Nixon) of his best friend and fellow band member Lewis (Adam Byard).
Minnie Driver is wonderful as Viv, nailing a note-perfect Swansea accent and delivering a warm-hearted performance that's utterly charming. There's also terrific support from a cast of obscenely talented unknowns, with Barnard, Harries and Evans being the three stand-outs.
The musical direction is extremely impressive and the songs (including versions of Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World and Nick Drake's Cello Song) are breathtakingly performed, with an organic, natural quality that puts the over-produced, cynical pop packagings of Glee to shame. The film is beautifully shot too, with Charlotte Bruus Christensen's sun-drenched cinematography doing a good job of passing the summer of 2010 off as that of 1976.
The only real problem with the film is that there are so many different subplots that it's difficult to get emotionally invested in any of them, although on a second viewing, they coalesce into a sort of coming of age kaleidoscope that works rather well and feels genuinely original to boot. In addition, the film culminates in a terrific musical finale that's guaranteed to send you out of the cinema with a smile on your face.
Hugely enjoyable and impressively directed, this is an infectiously warm-hearted coming-of-age drama with a terrific central performance from Minnie Driver and some beautifully performed musical numbers. Highly recommended.