JDIFF 2012 REVIEW – Hunky Dory

In the summer of 1976, drama teacher Viv (Minnie Driver) struggles against the odds to stage a rock and roll version of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest as the end of year production.

It has been quite some time since Minnie Driver has graced our screens in a leading role, and this is a great return to form for the actress. Viv has returned from London to teach drama in her hometown, but she is constantly struggling against the small town mentality, and kids who would rather hang out at the swimming pool on hot days, as she tries to create something new and innovative. Driver’s enthusiasm as Viv oozes from the screen, and it is hard not to root for her production to succeed.

Minnie Driver carries the film with a character that adults can relate to and students wish they had teaching them; she has not yet reached the jadedness of her colleagues and is willing to connect and communicate with her students. The real stars of the film, however, are the kids and particular mention has to go to Aneurin Bernard as Davey. Davey emerges as the film’s heartthrob and is played subtly but with passion by Bernard, who won the 2010 Laurence Olivier Award and is sure to be one to watch.

The choice to use The Tempest is an interesting one; the trials and tribulations in the play lead the way for the characters to go through their own period of self-discovery, and allows the audience to gain a deeper understanding for kids who are usually dismissed as ‘trouble’.

The jukebox musical works well for the film. Cashing in on the Glee and High School Musical style creates a framework for the film, but instead of the highly polished renditions we have been treated to from the US, the 70s era music allows the gritty realism of the film to remain intact while creating an upbeat contrast to the students’ troubled personal lives. Instead of appearing like a cheap version of Glee, Hunky Dory instead emerges with the feeling created in Steve Coogan’s Hamlet 2 – determination under pressure leading to a cathartic performance at the end of the film.

Hunky Dory does not break new ground, and nor does it try to. The film sets out to be endearing and entertaining, and succeeds on both counts. Director Marc Evans has created a charming film that plays on nostalgia, which entertains and allows the audience to leave the cinema with a smile on their face and a song – probably Living Thing by ELO – in their hearts.

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