Reviewed by Hardeep Matharu

Minnie Driver returns to the cinema and leads a refreshing young ensemble cast in this all-singing, all-exploring coming-of-age Swansea story from the producer of Billy Elliot (Jon Finn). 

In the scorching summer of ’76, drama teacher Viv (Driver) is preparing to stage the school’s end of year show – a rock ‘n’ roll, new-age version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest using the kids’ favourite pop songs.  

Viv has quite a task on her hands as the teenagers would rather do anything else than turn up to rehearsals.  Combined with the relentless criticism from other teachers who dismiss the show as “petty liberal procrastination”, Viv has a mountain to climb in getting the show ready for the end of term in three weeks’ time, when the teenagers will leave school for good. 

As the students explore their relationships with each other, their families and their own feelings, it’s clear that Viv wants to give them a means of expression, and the chance to learn about much more than just drama.  

Enlisting as many of them as possible into the cast, alongside the headmaster and the entire school orchestra, the show slowly seems to be coming together.  If only the lives and loves of the teenagers involved did…

 Hunky Dory is a likeable exploration of youth and the transitional period of teenage when young people start to think, start to feel, and the disorder and discovery which follows this.  

Not straying far from the new High School Musical and Glee era of productions, the beating heart of the film is its young characters and the aspirations and angst of youth and, in this, there is something for everyone to identify with. 

 The catchy music and uplifting performances are used to good effect, but there is still a gritty realism to the film’s subtexts which the aforementioned all-American extravaganzas lack.  Although a film which is not too surprising in its plot or characterisation, Hunky Dory is very relatable in its ability to transport the audience to that ‘up in the air’ awkward era of their lives with authenticity.    

The Tempest is a creative plot device as the parts the teenagers play depict the real worries and challenges they face.  The loneliness of teenager Kenny, for example, is understated in his character, but highlighted through his portrayal of the play’s outsider, Caliban.  You develop hopes for these kids and the ending leaves the audience with the personal feeling of having something to ponder.  

While it’s clear the characters have complexities to them, the film could have scratched below the surface a little more to give greater depth to its presentation of their relationships.  But, at nearly two hours running time, this would have come at the expense of some musical pieces and, perhaps for this reason, it is a big ask.  

In any case, the main characters of Viv and Davey (Aneurin Barnard) are well-executed and their trials and tribulations drive the film forward.  Rising star Barnard (2010 winner of a Laurence Olivier Award for his lead role in the musical Spring Awakening) is aptly cast as the passionate heartthrob whom he plays with charisma and subtlety, and Driver seems comfortable in a role allowing her to display her enthusiasm for music. 

All in all, director Marc Evans’ film is a well-made musical drama which is watchable for an audience of many ages.  While the film does not break new ground in its genre or plot, it is an entertaining piece with good performances which will get you thinking about that bygone era in which things seemed far from hunky dory.

About The Author

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Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle