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On Film4: 18 Jan 5:15PM
Minnie Driver is an enthusiastic Welsh school teacher who, during the sweltering summer of 1976, tries to stage a rock-opera version of Shakespeare's The Tempest
"In this hall the normal rules don't apply, everything out there doesn't count." These words may as well be Marc Evans' manifesto for his musical-drama Hunky Dory. But they're also the overblown words of a Welsh schoolteacher with flighty dreams of really "reaching" her kids. With the focus of the film so squarely on the musical that Minnie Driver and her pupils are to pull together (Shakespeare's The Tempest, set on Mars with a "David Bowie and friends" soundtrack) this is a film that owes a huge debt to TV's Glee. Sprinkling 1970s Swansea with sun-kissed pixie dust means that the core cast can all sing like professionals, have movie-star good looks and still find the time for romance (with little need to worry about schoolwork). This is definitely from the Ryan Murphy school of teenage angst. Not that that's a negative; the perennially golden hue of sunny Swansea, the enthusiasm of its cast and some chirpy little musical numbers are the best things about Hunky Dory. There's just little else to it.
A film devoid of conflict, Hunky Dory is extremely flat. It's a shame that none of the plot strands that might have lead to something meatier (violent skinheads, homosexual awakenings and a teenage runaway) don't ever go beyond surface-level, soap-opera shenanigans. It's not that any of this is handled badly - it's just not handled at all. The plot is pushed forward only by sexual tension and the question of whether or not the school play will go ahead or - hardly edge of your plastic-classroom-seat stuff. That said, it's hard not to enjoy the bubbly Bowie numbers and a few less expected pieces, such as Nick Drake's Cello Song. Unsurprisingly Driver is given a paper-thin excuse to flex her vocal chords and Aneurin Barnard looks set to be on the verge of stardom with his doleful eyes and dulcet tones.
Laurence Coriat's script has a few bright spots and is peppered with just enough profanity to keep the saccharine in check but where some comparisons could have been drawn between The Tempest and the comings and goings in Swansea, there's little attempt at anything daring.
There's a critical point in the third act where the focus is drawn away from the kids and pushed onto Driver's character, as a disaster befalls the production. It feels as though there's a crisis in the director's chair of where to settle and what to say, which means that Evans ends up spreading himself too thinly over some rather drab scenes. Hunky Dory does pull itself back together for the twee finale but it never manages to capture the pep of High School Musical or the charm of similarly gentle nostalgia-piece Son Of Rambow.
A fluffy film about nothing, Minnie Driver and some talented kids keep the cheerful, sunny affair afloat but much like a lazy summer, it's quickly forgotten once it's over.
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