Hunky Dory review

A tempest is brewing in Swansea. Specifically, a rock odyssey combining Shakespeare's play and the music of the '70s. Viv May (Driver) is an idealistic young drama teacher with a class of teenagers discovering themselves, each other and love in the scorching summer of 1976.

Davey (Barnard) is in love with the gorgeous but flighty Stella (Branch). Dena wants to be with Evan who feels like an alien. Jake loves Vicki but can't tell best friend Lewis as she is his sister. Kenny (Evans) is in thrall to his delinquent older brother and is not at all happy. But will the end of term school musical bring them together or tear them apart?

I'm going to be honest here: I don't like musicals. Well, very few, mainly because the songs often aren't consistently good. Even Mamma Mia was excruciating thanks to the acting and singing - and I love Abba. But using classic rock songs and weaving them into the narrative of a play within a film? I'm sold.

And it's not just the concept that's great - this is a well-written, beautifully shot period piece with a talented cast playing fully-formed characters. Minnie Driver seems to be in her element and even gets to show off her not insignificant singing voice, if only briefly. The bulk of the main characters are teenagers and what a fantastic group of young (largely) Welsh performers they are too. Aneurin Barnard excels as Davey, Kimberley Nixon will be well-now from TV's Fresh Meat by the time this film gets released, and Darren Evans impresses as the troubled Kenny, having previously appeared in Summer Scars and Submarine, with which this shares a few superficial similarities.

Director Marc Evans has sensibly underplayed the retro factor so while there are some very '70s touches (Popsicles, cassettes, Viv's Triumph, those plastic tubes that make a whistling sound when you whirl them around) it doesn't go over the top on fashions or haircuts. Moreover, he gets the feel, the essence of the summer term at school, and that unbridled joy of singing and dancing that the play brings - 'self expression', as Viv calls it.

It doesn't stint on emotion either. Young love is a strong theme as you'd expect with 16-year-olds but there's also separation, loss and unfulfilled dreams on the agenda. Putting all of this together in the context of a school musical is tricky to balance without coming across as predictable or saccharine (or both) but Evans pulls it off superbly and stylishly. This is a wonderful slice of '70s life, entertaining, toe-tapping stuff. Hunky dory indeed.

Hunky Dory at IMDb

Justin Bateman is a Screenjabber contributor

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