Starring: Jonny Owen, Vicky McClure, Martin Freeman, Michael Socha, Matt Berry, Morwenna Banks
Directed by: John Hardwick
Synopsis: Svengali tells the story of Dixie, a small town guy with a big dream. He leaves a humble Welsh mining town for the bright lights of London, intent on becoming the manager of the best band in the world.
Svengali is the kind of movie that us Brit’s do fantastically well. Like Sunshine on Leith that I reviewed recently, and alongside such other feel good hits like The Full Monty, Brassed Off and Billy Elliott. It is a very British film, from the characters and setting, to the underlying Mod culture to the amazing soundtrack. One look at Twitter and it will tell you it is building up quite a cult following. Whether it would translate to American audiences remains to be seen. Even if it doesn’t, it’s still a great achievement going from it’s humble beginnings as a series of webisodes to getting a cinema release. And whilst it’s not quite worthy of sitting next to a classic like The Full Monty, it is an enjoyable romp nonetheless.
Jonny Owen, who wrote the screenplay, stars as Dixie, the Welshman looking for a band to manage. His dreams appear to come true when he finds the ‘next big thing’ The Prems on YouTube. He travels to London to be their ‘Svengali’. The problem is, he has no money, and about the same amount of brain cells. Mind you, he is happy enough with his girlfriend Michelle (Vicky McClure) along with him. Things do not run smooth though. The Prems are the dictionary definition of trouble, he is behind on his rent and he can’t get a job. It all comes to a head when Michelle has enough and heads home, leaving Dixie with a decision to make.
Jonny Owen is a charming presence as Dixie, a dim witted but loveable guy. Vicky McClure (This is England) is also lovely in her role as Michelle. The rest of the cast are fine, including Martin Freeman in a small role as a militant record store owner, and there is a great cameo from Alan McGhee (ex Oasis manager). In fact, it’s impressive how many stars Jonny Owen managed to call upon to either star in the film or lend their music to the soundtrack. It’s a feast of British rock from classic 60’s Mod bands The Who and Small Faces, 80’s bands like Stone Roses, through to modern day acts like The Libertines and Jake Bugg.
In fact, if the film has a flaw it may well be that it is so ‘all about the music’ that it may alienate people who maybe don’t know who Alan McGhee or Carl Barat are, or know anything about Mod culture. The film is definitely going to find an audience with the likes of Martin Freeman’s character, an extremely realistic Carnaby Street mod if ever I’ve seen one.
Svengali, is a simple slice of feel-good heart warming British comedy that is perfect for anyone with a love for music. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s already achieved more than it could have ever expected. So, a bit of an underdog, just like Dixie, then.
You can check out my Q&A with Jonny Owen here.