Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll is an intelligent and enjoyable film that tells the Ian Dury story; it follows his rise to fame following his personal battle with polio, and explores the impact of fame and his combative and unpredictable personality on his family. It is directed superbly by Mat Whitecross, but the real plaudits must go to Andy Serkis, who inhabits the persona of Dury in an unnervingly convincing performance.
Tackling the rise and fall of bolshy proto-punk gobshite Ian Dury, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is a riot of clattering noise and kaleidoscopic colour, off-kilter imagery and foul language, all the good things the title promises and much more. Whitecross presents Dury as a verbally abusive, dishonest, thoroughly disreputable but endlessly fascinating lyrical genius, exploring his past in a way that informs – but never seeks to explain – his present.
– Time Out
This is no sentimentalised portrait of Dury, but an honest portrayal of a wild, belligerent brawler who could be sensitive and warm-hearted towards his children, wife and lover, yet also self-centred and neglectful. The film explores dispassionately the roots of Dury’s aggression in his fifties childhood: a victim of polio subject to hardship and cruelty in the hospital to which he was sent.
In this, and several other ways, I saw parallels between this film and last week’s Nowhere Boy. Both films have at their centre tough and literate, yet verbally abusive characters; both films depict broken, but tenaciously tough families; and both suggest that a disturbed childhood might account for the personality development of the central figure . In one, Lennon is wounded by the discovery that his mother abandoned him, yet lived virtually round the corner; in the other, Dury is haunted by the memory of his father who seems to have left him to his fate in a cruel institution. Both films, too, pivot around a crucial photograph: Lennon and the Quarrymen performing on the day he met Paul McCartney, and Dury and his son in the photoshoot that produced the legendary New Boots and Panties album cover.
I grew up in the 1950s and I can vividly remember the fear that polio invoked: my Mum was constantly anxious that I might succumb to the deadly germ. It was the fear of becoming a spastic. This film shows us what it was really like for those kids who caught it and were subject to prejudice and social isolation. In one of the best scenes in the film, Dury revisits the hospital where he spent his childhood, coming face to face with a new generation of angry young outcasts. This is soon after he has recorded the controversial ‘Spasticus Autisticus’:
Hello to you out there in Normal Land
You may not comprehend my tale or understand
As I crawl past your window give me lucky looks
You can be my body but you’ll never read my books
I’m spasticus, I’m spasticus
I’m spasticus autisticus
Shall I mourn your decline with some thunderbird wine
and a black handkerchief?
I miss your sad Virginia whisper
I miss the voice that called my heart
– ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’