dir John Hardwick
scr Jonny Owen
prd Jonny Owen, Martin Root, Rob Small, Victoria Wood
with Jonny Owen, Vicky McClure, Michael Socha, Dylan Edwards, Joel Fry, Curtis Thompson, Roger Evans, Alan McGee, Martin Freeman, Maxine Peake, Katy Brand, Michael Smiley
release UK 21.Mar.14
13/UK 1h33
Give it a listen: Owen and Evans

mcclure freeman peake
edinburgh film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Svengali An energetic pace and likeable characters makes this scruffy British comedy enjoyable, even if we get the nagging sense that the plot isn't actually going anywhere. Indeed, the film takes a very British approach to success, which will be rather unsatisfying for some viewers.

In rural Wales, Dixie (Owen) finally discovers an unknown band on YouTube that he thinks he can propel into stardom. So he grabs his girlfriend Shell (McClure) and heads to London to manage the Premature Congratulations (Socha, Edwards, Fry and Thompson), four young guys who are utterly clueless about pretty much everything. But Dixie's old pal Horsey (Evans), now a record exec, won't return his calls, and his promotional efforts push him deeper in debt. Then something clicks, and "The Prems" become the hottest unsigned band in the business.

Alas, this is one of those films in which everything goes wrong. And then some. Poor Dixie can't get a break anywhere, even though the band's reputation is going through the roof and he's the one doing all the work to keep the boys' fragile friendships from imploding. Out of money, late with the rent and in debt to a loan shark (Smiley), Dixie also has to cope with a surly boss (Freeman) and a dying father. Then when Shell gets fed up with him, the film lurches awkwardly into a rom-com formula.

None of this is necessary, as the filmmakers' gently comical approach to the music industry is genuinely engaging, especially with Dixie's small-town charm catching the cynical record executives by surprise. But even though his "backwards" ways yield implausibly huge results, any sense of accomplishment remains out of reach. So Owen's likeable performance ends up driving us nuts, simply because his screenplay refuses to let him win anything.

The film is sharply shot and edited, with a superb songs peppering the soundtrack. But the fact that we never get to hear The Prems (their debut is scored as an orchestral montage) is just another of many narrative annoyances. There's absolutely no reason why the plot takes these twists and turns, aside from the screenwriter's reluctance to give the audience anything that it might want. Which feels a bit cruel after all the good will we felt in the first hour.

cert 15 themes, language 9.Jan.14

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Svengali Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall