Amelia’s Magazine | Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll – Film Review


The biopic. It’s a strange bird. When your subject is Ray Charles or Johnny Cash the thing must write itself. The drugs! The women! The soundtrack! But it’s this kind of lazy obviousness that has put me off watching the likes Ray and Walk the Line, perhaps to my discredit. They’re probably as good as everyone says they are. If they’re not? If they’re as hackneyed and clichéd as I expected? Well, at least I can enjoy the music.

With Sex & Drugs & Rock n Roll I couldn’t help myself. I’ve been a long-time admirer of Ian Dury’s work and especially the juxtaposition between his seemingly knockabout lyrics and the tight musicianship of the Blockheads. I caught some of the hype, a couple of Andy Serkis interviews about his preparation for the starring role and that was it. My distaste for the biopic was gently put aside for an evening.

If you’ve seen the poster, you’ll already know that Serkis is magnificent. And if you’ve got any sense you’ll also know and love the music (or be on your way to discover it round about now). Right there are two reasons you should go and see this film. Another is a wonderful opening credit sequence by none other than Sir Peter ‘I’ve done more than just the Sgt Pepper cover, you know’ Blake. But don’t expect to get much else. Fair performances from the rest of the cast and attention to period detail do not raise this biopic from goodness to greatness.

The film is in loose chronological order, with the occasional flashback to a troubled childhood. The story touches upon Dury’s contracting of polio and subsequent disability, his relationship with his father, his unstable family life and a tempestuous time with his bandmates and, of course, the music. It rattles through, giving us the odd bit on how much of a bastard Dury could be, or how he came up with some of his most famous songs. But there’s little depth and no tension to hold it all together. The film opens with Serkis’s Dury saying something along the lines of ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’, but then the film appears to do just that.

This film is clearly a labour of love, a love for both for the music and for Dury himself. But if there’s a good story arc in Dury’s eventful, colourful, lyrical life – a beginning followed by a middle and an end – the writers haven’t found it. For example, Dury’s mate the Sulphate Strangler is introduced grandly, but then does very little and exits the story in a bit of throwaway dialogue. And the relationship between Dury and his son Baxter forms most of the film’s action, but I didn’t get wrapped up in a real story. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.

But these are niggles. What you want at the very least from this kind of film is an outstanding central performance and excellent music, both of which Serkis himself gives. He sang Dury’s words so well that I couldn’t keep his face out of my mind when later listening to the original recordings. What you also want is an insight to the real Ian Dury. Despite it not having as good a plot as, say, 24 Hour Party People, it does give you an idea of what sort of man he was.

Despite ticking the essential boxes, the film doesn’t have that extra bit to make me watch the film rather than listen to the records. As far as I’m concerned, the biopic can be rather tricky, but this one deserves to do very well.

Categories ,24 Hour Party People, ,Andy Serkis, ,Ian Dury, ,Johnny Cash, ,Ray Charles, ,The Blockheads

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