Josef Locke (1917-1999) was an Irish singer who found great success in the U.K. and Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s, until a conflict with British tax authorities forced him to return to his home country, laying low for several years until the legal and financial difficulties were worked out. In the late ‘60s, he resumed his career to almost as much popularity and acclaim as he had enjoyed during its peak.
Hear My Song is a fiction based on Locke’s story, told from the point of view of Micky O’Neill, a Liverpool nightclub manager. When a Locke impersonator that O’Neill presents as the real thing under the name “Mr. X” is revealed to be a fraud, he travels to Ireland to find the true Locke and bring him back to perform.
The BAFTA-nominated screenplay was written by actors Peter Chelsom, who also directed (his feature-length debut), and Adrian Dunbar, who plays O’Neill. The two took the modestly budgeted (£2 million) picture to Cannes where it was snapped up by Miramax, ensuring a wider audience in the U.S. As a result, the film made money, got positive reviews and garnered multiple awards and nominations, including a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe nod for American actor Ned Beatty as the real Locke.
It also brought about yet another revival of Locke’s career after a lengthy semi-retirement. He released a compilation CD of his greatest hits under the movie’s title and sang “Goodbye,” the final song performed by his character (dubbed by Vernon Midgley) in the movie, for the Prince and Princess of Wales at the 1992 Royal Variety Show. It was his final concert appearance.
Besides Dunbar and Beatty, the impressive cast includes Tara Fitzgerald (Game of Thrones) as Micky’s girlfriend and Shirley Anne Field as her mother, a former lover of Locke’s who is perfectly placed to tell the genuine item from a copy. Coincidentally, Field once played a beauty contestant who becomes involved with a music hall singer also in trouble with the tax man in The Entertainer (1960), starring Laurence Olivier. Another coincidence arises from the cast, or so rumor has it. David McCallum, playing a police detective trying to track down Locke for unpaid taxes, is the son of a former first violinist for the London Philharmonic who performed at a Locke concert.
In addition to Beatty’s and other nominations, the film won Best Comedy Film from the British Comedy Awards and Most Promising Newcomer for Chelsom as writer-director from both the London Film Critics Circle and the Evening Standard British Film Awards. The Standard also awarded director of photography Sue Gibson for Best Technical Achievement. Gibson, who also shot Mrs. Dalloway (1997), Resident Evil (2002) and Alien vs. Predator (2004), was the first female member of the British Society of Cinematographers and its first female president.
While continuing his acting career, Chelsom went on to direct such films as Town & Country (2001) with Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton and Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009).
Hear My Song was filmed on location in Ireland, Liverpool and London.