“One thing you can’t hide,” sang John Lennon, “is when you’re crippled inside.”
Never one to conceal his neuroses, from ‘Help!’ to primal therapy Lennon bared his psychic wounds for all to see. Ian Dury’s impediment was all-too palpable, but such was his force of character he turned it into a source of power. Of the two biopics about the old rockers currently doing the rounds, the Dury film is the more engrossing and candid.
‘Nowhere Boy’, Sam Taylor-Wood’s mainstream directorial début isn’t a bad movie, just a dull one. I kept asking myself as I watched it, would I care about one more dysfunctional Merseyside family if I didn’t know that the boy would grow up to become a superstar; the answer is, not really. Perhaps over-familiarity with the story of Lennon’s childhood and adolescence has made me jaded. Paul McCartney, it seems to me, suffered equally traumatic experiences but rejected the remorselessly self-indulgent antics of his friend. He also wrote better songs.
Aaron Johnson as Lennon is likeable but not particularly memorable. Andy Serkis’s portrayal of the oldest punk on the block, however, is almost embarrassingly excellent. He captures Dury’s swagger and self-assurance, his vulnerability and charisma – and also his implacable offensiveness. Dury quotes Lionel Trilling to his band: “Immature artists imitate, mature artists steal” and, as the film demonstrates, he cheerily filched from Max Miller, the Situationists and Billy Smart’s circus. But he was never less than his own man – even when that made him indifferent to the suffering of those closest to him. The young Bill Milner turns in a promise-crammed performance as Dury’s son, Baxter, whose chaotic upbringing has been fruitfully transmuted into a successful musical career.
For those who have forgotten, or are too young to know, what all the fuss is about, here is Ian Dury and the Blockheads giving a blistering performance of ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’ with the Clash’s Mick Jones guesting on guitar.