Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
When it comes to that greatest of British cultural exports, the punk rock movement, figures don’t come much bigger than Ian Dury. Partially crippled and more than a little crazy, the man arguably represented rejection of the norms of polite society as much as Malcolm McLaren and Sid Vicious. Even for those of us who studied the movement in Modern History rather than experiencing it for ourselves, we can still appreciate the legacy these crazy cats left on contemporary notions of music and style. Which is why when we at Best For Film learned of the release of a Dury biopic starring the fantastic Andy Serkis as the eccentric musician, we were more than a little psyched.
A colourful character
The film opens as Dury’s wife Betty (Olivia Williams) is giving birth to their son, a fact Dury himself is seemingly oblivious to as he rehearses with his band in the basement. Somehow we doubt this scene is entirely autobiographical, but it certainly sets up the man’s unconventional, emotionally distant character, which is a continuing theme throughout Mat Whitecross’s somewhat patchy narrative. The story, told partly through Dury’s own voice as he narrates his life story on stage, and partly through flashbacks and dream sequences, charts episodes of Dury’s tough childhood and his rise to the top of the punk scene at the expense of his personal life.
Hypnotic and brilliant
There is no doubt that Serkis’s performance as Dury is one of the best to come out of British film this year. He embodies the character to an almost frightening degree, from his comic tics and eye rolls to his gutsy, roaring stage persona. It’s such a mesmerising portrayal, though, that he virtually dwarfs his entire support cast (with the exception of Son of Rainbow‘s Bill Milner, who holds his own respectably as Dury’s son Baxter). To be fair, though, it doesn’t help that Paul Viragh’s screenplay is so tightly focused on Dury alone that the rest of the characters are relegated to two-dimensional caricatures to begin with. Then there’s the confusing style of story Whitecross has given us – the constant flashing back and forward and hyperactive editing is no doubt meant to be symbolic of Dury’s mercurial, unpredictable nature, but unfortunately it does more to detract from the film than add to it.
Nevertheless, if you can handle the frenetic swings of the plot, this film is worth seeing for Serkis alone. Even if a few years from now this film lies forgotten in a DVD bargain bin somewhere amongst countless other rock biopics of recent years, its lead star simply cannot be ignored.