I usually despise musicals. I cringe at the sight of teenagers wearing pasted-on smiles, belting out show tunes whilst mid-conversation with stern authority figures. Yet Marc Evans' Hunky Dory seeks to counter the contrivance of High School Musical and Glee, instead presenting us with a naturalistic drama that explores the lives of a dreamless bunch of kids in pre-Thatcher South Wales. Despite facing their last summer holiday before being destined for mediocrity, free-spirited drama teacher Vivienne May (Minnie Driver) wants her class to put on an end of year production of The Tempest "that William Shakespeare and David Bowie would be proud of" in order to give them some lasting hope of achievement.
The film follows the cast as they seek to produce a "Shakespearean concept rock opera", despite disapproval from conservative teachers, prejudiced rugby coaches and skinhead relatives. The youngsters' talents shine through, with the 1976 backdrop meaning ensemble performances of the likes of David Bowie, Nick Drake, ELO and The Beach Boys. There is a strong feel-good vibe to Hunky Dory, which dances between comedic musical and nostalgic drama with some success. Several character arcs map the cast's progression through the stereotypical hurdles of adolescent strife – but all's well by opening night, when the class perform relatively unscathed.
However, there is a great failing in Hunky Dory due to its poverty of originality. The setting and story borrow heavily from Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused and School of Rock, whilst the students' individual stories aren't given time to develop, and so seem to be pulled straight from Skins and Cemetery Junction. Perhaps Marc Evans bit off more than he could chew here. I imagine that Hunky Dory would play out quite well as a TV mini-series, and perhaps the predictable plot and two-dimensional characters may simply be a result of it being confined to 110 minutes. Nonetheless, the film is an easy watch, especially the final rendition of Life On Mars?, which is performed impeccably. Expect some warm chuckles in the hazy Welsh sunshine, but not riotous laughs. Hunky Dory won't ever have you on the edge of your seat, but its pleasant enough to keep you in it.