After years of slogging around the pub circuit, Ian Dury (Andy Serkis) ditches his band and forms the Blockheads to critical and commercial acclaim, but his sudden escalating success has a profound and damaging effect on those around him, not least his son, Baxter (Bill Milner)…
Knobbled by the disease he contracted in a swimming pool in Southend as a young boy, the cruelty of his plight was sometimes reflected in the angry and occasionally blithe personality of the man who had also been abandoned by his dad and sent away to an austere school for disabled children. This complex upbringing, halcyon days of fame and excess, and Dury’s intermittent brilliance as an artist and songwriter are all brought to bear in Mat Whitecross’ movie.
Dury’s legacy is an unwieldy one. He alienated the people around him, but was endearing and generous: an archetypal lovable rogue. Andy Serkis is already being touted as a BAFTA winner for his performance as Dury, and it’s not difficult to see why: his physicality, singing voice (he got to perform with the Blockheads, to his nervy bemusement) and broad rasping voice are remarkable. Even Dury’s son Baxter, who acted as occasional consultant on the film, was unnerved by Serkis the first time he loped past in the singer’s familiar stage garb.
Bill Milner, too, is electrifying as the teenage son watching his father move further away as his parents’ marriage splinters and Dury repeats every sad trick in the rock ’n’ roll book. The film itself abandons any real linear form, and while it occasionally dazzles with pop art king Peter Blake’s animation (he taught Ian in art school), this only serves to confuse the viewer not already familiar with Dury’s story. Ray Winstone is a gentle, dreamlike figure as Dury’s long-lost dad, while Naomie Harris looks suitably enlivened and then crushed as Dury’s long-standing on-and-off-again girlfriend. It’s Serkis’ movie, though, whether as the leering frontman or the introspective and complex artist.
A sometimes whimsical and magical take on the life of one of Britain’s most artistically charged rock stars. Serkis shines in his role as the troubled singer.
Reviewed by Philip Wilding