THE show must go on for an unconventional drama teacher, who inspires her pupils to chase their dreams during the hottest summer on record, in Marc Evans’s feel good rites-of-passage drama.
Set in 1976 Swansea and shot on location in south Wales, Hunky Dory taps into the enduring popularity of the TV series Glee to chronicle growing pains during a comprehensive school musical.
The trials and tribulations in Laurence Coriat’s screenplay are familiar and the resolution to each conflict is predictable but Evans’s film has a sweetness and sincerity that is charming.
He is blessed with a young cast, many of them newcomers, whose natural performances and strong singing voices leave us with a winning smile.
While Swansea swelters in temperatures nudging 30 degrees centigrade, teacher Vivienne (Minnie Driver) struggles to stage a futuristic rock musical based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest set to songs of the era by David Bowie and Electric Light Orchestra.
Her unorthodox approach to teaching fails to curry favour with colleagues in the staffroom.
Social studies teacher Miss Valentine (Haydn Gwynne) purses her lips at the mere mention of the play while PE teacher Mr Cafferty (Steve Speirs) advocates a stronger hand with the youngsters, arguing cryptically, ‘Self-expression won’t butter the parsnips.’
Vivienne faces stern challenges from the pupils too.
Leading man Davey (Aneurin Barnard) fails to keep his emotions in check when his on-off romance with leading lady Stella (Danielle Branch) implodes.
Vivienne counsels the lad through his heartbreak, inflaming the lad’s raging hormones.
“Are you going to sleep with him?” asks Vivienne’s continental housemate.
“Oh my God, you’re so French!” she gasps.
Meanwhile, Davey’s classmate Evan (Tom Harries) comes to terms with his sexuality, skinhead Kenny (Darren Evans) rebels against his participation in the play and Jake (George MacKay) contemplates a romance with the pretty sister (Kimberley Nixon) of his best mate Lewis (Adam Byard).
As tempers flare, the school’s headmaster (Robert Pugh) weathers criticism before accepting a role as Prospero in Vivienne’s ramshackle production.
Hunky Dory is bathed in a golden glow to mirror the intense heat of that glorious summer when the nation was officially in a state of drought leading to a hosepipe ban.
Evans uses the locations well, including shots of Brynamman Lido where the teenagers try to cool off and the distinctive skyline of the Port Talbot steelworks that belches smoke into the heated air.
Driver eases effortlessly into her role as the educator with a lust for life and Barnard, who won an Olivier Award for his performance in the musical Spring Awakening, makes his mark on the big screen.
Co-stars cope well with the script’s amiable mix of comedy and angst, culminating in the climactic performance of The Tempest with a flamboyant punk-rock vibe.
STAR RATING: ***