Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll review

Serkis in the spotlight...

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Ian Dury’s punk-poet spirit infuses this exuberant biopic of the late Essex singer, who fought addiction, depression and polio en route to becoming a national treasure as gravel-voiced frontman of The Blockheads.

Much of this is down to a fearless performance from Andy Serkis, who brings Ian back to life with a fiercely charismatic turn that perfectly mirrors his snarling ferocity, earthy humour and hobbling gait.

Like last year’s Bronson, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – named after one of The Blockheads’ hits his former bandmates rerecorded especially for Mat Whitecross’ film – takes an offbeat, stylised approach to its unconventional subject.

Seemingly introduced from beyond the grave by a whey-faced, bowlerhatted Dury, here resembling a bizarre cross between Charlie Chaplin and the MC from Cabaret, the film that follows whisks us on a whistle-stop tour through his rollercoaster career, focusing as much on his childhood sufferings at the hands of a tyrannical guardian (Toby Jones) and the absence of his beloved father (Ray Winstone) as his subsequent attempts to find an audience for his funky, verbose compositions while keeping the women in his life (Naomie Harris, Olivia Williams) happy.

Front and centre, however, is Dury’s relationship with his son Baxter (Bill Milner), a lad who witnessed first hand the lunacy of his father’s rock’n’roll lifestyle.

This, then, is as much a rite of passage story as a biographical drama, Milner’s prim public schoolboy turning to teenage tearaway under his dad’s tutelage before eventually rejecting his self-destructive behaviour.

This emphasis on the personal might disappoint those who’d rather focus on the music. But Serkis is never less than ace, not least when spitting out ‘Spasticus Autisticus’ – a riposte to the UN’s Year Of Disabled Persons – from inside a straitjacket.

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Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.