Review by Joseph Conaghan (Joe Blogs)
Hunky Dory, an independent made British film had a very limited theatrical run in March 2012 and was released on DVD in late June 2012.
It is the story of Viv who returns to Swansea in South Wales after being away at “Princess College” to teach at the comp and assembles a cast of teenagers with her vision of putting on a musical version of The Tempest that the Bard and David Bowie would be proud of. It is 1976.
The film belongs to Minnie Driver from the opening frames, she lends Viv the authentic aura of the maverick schoolteacher we all wish we had (as most schools had one) at odds with the head and the established staff room attitudes to the kids as she is seen sharing the odd crafty ciggie with them and even risking all by letting pupils stay at her house.
The curls, the costumes are 100% spot on and she is very close with the Swansea accent (her famous dad born there), critics would have mauled her if she messed that up although if Catherine Zeta originally planned for the role had taken the role she would have had to lose the mid-atlantic drawl accordingly.
From the opening sequence we are bathed in the Instagram effect that 70′s photo’s evoke, especially ones taken in that very hot summer of 1976. There are plots and sub-plots which is no surprise when you realise the producer’s previous credits include “Billy Elliott” (what do you remember most, the dancing or the scenes of the 1984 Miners Strike?).
However the glue holding the film together is the music. It would have been easy to have followed “High School Musical” or “Glee” formula and gone for that full polished teenagers miming to session musicians note perfect renditions of catchy numbers with the spin off soundtrack cd sales in mind, but Welsh born director Marc Evans has taken the brave step of auditioning real teenagers for the orchestra and singers who play live on the film giving it the same feel as the little known “Canadian Langley Schools Music Project” of the same era. The music producer on the film Joby Talbot is best known for his work with The Divine Comedy and the understated arrangements suit the period well.
The outstanding tracks are Life On Mars with a water bottle accompaniment and the long forgotten Strange Magic from ELO. The fact that that Strange Magic had also been featured in the cult bathed in sunshine American movie “The Virgin Suicides” set in the same era is possibly co-incidence, there seems to be a genre evolving of gritty nostalgia with a soft focus. Stalwart Welsh actor Steve Spiers is great in this as the P.E. teacher and he also appears in Ricky Gervais’ “Cemetery Junction” which remembers 1970′s Reading of the same era and the defining film of this genre has to be “Submarine” set in Swansea in a pre-mobile phone world but without the sunshine.
Hunky Dory deserves an audience, it is the kind of film that is involving and uplifting without being gripping and euphoric. Not quite a critic’s favourite It has already started to receive the best approval there is ….the word of mouth recommendation.