Film review | Hunky Dory – Minnie Driver puts on a show to gladden Shakespeare & Bowie

HUNKY DORY - Minnie Driver plays inspirational teacher Vivienne

Shakespeare meets David Bowie in Hunky Dory, a joyful, uplifting musical drama set in a Swansea secondary school during the long hot summer of 1976.

Minnie Driver stars as the school’s idealistic, mildly bohemian drama teacher, Vivienne, who decides to mount a rock-opera version of The Tempest using pop songs to drive the story and engage her pupils’ interest. ‘I want to put on a show that William Shakespeare and David Bowie would be proud of,’ she declares.

Predictably, the venture meets sneering opposition from conservative fellow staff, including Haydn Gwynne’s sour sociology teacher and Steve Speir’s boorish PE master. And with the kids going through typical teenage traumas over sex, love and identity, the show looks set for disaster. Instead… well, the stirring finale will bring a lump to your throat.

Director Marc Evans’ semi-autobiographical film takes its time to get there, though, playing out the diverse plot strands at a pace appropriate to the summer’s languid heat. But the mood is beguiling and so is the company. Driver, dialling down her movie star glamour and sporting a credible Welsh accent, is winningly down to earth and the kids look and sound authentic. When it comes to the songs – by the likes of Bowie, Nick Drake and ELO – the performances have none of the slickness or polish of American teen musicals. Here the music has a touching fragility and innocence reminiscent of the Langley schools music project, those eerily beautiful recordings captured on tape by a teacher in rural Canada at just the time Hunky Dory is set. The film’s kids are older than the Langley project’s pre-teens but they create a similar magic. Glee had better look to its laurels.

On general release from Friday 2nd March.

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