Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010)

Rating: B-

Dir: Mat Whitecross
Star: Andy Serkis, Olivia Williams, Tom Hughes, Bill Milner

I have a lot of time for Ian Dury, whose punk anthems such as the titular song, still easily stand the test of time, thirty years later. This is very much a “warts ‘n’ all” portrayal of the man: it begins with the birth of his son, during a band practice session, but dots back and forth in time. That allows it to cover both Dury’s early life, including the polio infection which left him half-crippled, his rise to unexpected fame, with which he was largely unprepared to handle, and the turbulent relationship with the women in his life, notably his long-suffering wife, Betty (Williams). But it’s on stage where the film really explodes, since Serkis is utterly impeccable and completely convincing as Dury.

He doesn’t play Dury, he becomes him, and the life performances capture the man’s charisma. I never got to see Dury play live, and it’s one of my regrets. Watching this film gives a sense of what that must have been like, but it’s a double-edged sword, only deepening my sense of loss. It’s certainly flawed, for example, skipping entirely the fact that Dury was not the “bloody thickie” he might have appeared: indeed, he studied at the Royal College of Art under Sir Peter Blake, and was an art teacher himself when he founded his first band, Kilburn and the High Roads. Instead, he’s portrayed as almost entirely raw, though there is something of the Van Gogh, tortured artist, about him.

It’s a jarring, spiky depiction that’s hard to get a handle on, and particularly initially, is so unlikeable as to turn the audience away. But as the film goes on, you appreciate that he was what he was, and it was up to those around him – as well as the viewer – to deal with it, however they want. By the end, you realize that, while Dury could certainly be an arsehole, there was another side to him; perhaps the most touching scene is when he goes back to his old school, to talk to the kids there. It paints an appropriately complex picture of a complex man, who was also one of England’s finest songwriters.