“I’ve always encouraged you Ian”
I’d heard of Ian Dury to be sure, but never really engaged with his music or life story so the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – a biography of his life – was pretty much brand new information for me. For those not to speed like me, Dury was stricken with polio at a young age, suffering lifelong disabilities as a result but also gaining the drive and determination to become one of the founder of the punk-rock music scene in Britain in the 1970s with his band The Blockheads. At the same time, his personal life wound a chaotic path as he balanced a wife and two children with the demands of a touring band and his parade of lovers.
Mat Whitecross’ film is full of boundless energy as it mixes Dury’s rise to fame with flashbacks to a childhood spent in a brutal institution and enthusiastic performance clips with Andy Serkis rocking the joint in an excellent performance as Dury. He reveals Dury to be a proudly artistic soul, a talented wordsmith and determined to weave his own path through life, even as he causes the wreckage of many others alongside him. Personally, I’m not a fan of the archetypal narrative that often accompanies genius, their gifts to the world exculpating them from being decent human beings and that is true here.
He cheats wantonly on his wife Betty, Olivia Williams doing her best with a rubbish part and tries to scupper her future happiness as she sets up home with a new bloke (and who wouldn’t leave their husband for Luke Evans, even with a Welsh accent); he barely acts as a parent to his children and sweeps the very young Baxter up into his fast-moving, drug-taking circle without any sense of responsibility; and even the woman he chooses to live with, Naomie Harris’ groupie Denise, he soon takes advantage of and neglects on an alternate basis.
Is it all fine because he wrote some good songs? Because he overcame difficult personal circumstances? I don’t know, I don’t know if it even really matters beyond my own weird sense of morality in these things. And in any case, the film is largely enjoyable. Fun cameos abound too – friends of Filter Poppy Miller and Ferdy Roberts appear late on as teachers, the revolving carousel of band members includes Arthur Darvill, Sam Spruell and Mackenzie Crook; and Toby Jones is creepily effective as an oppressive orderly from Dury’s childhood.