• WARNING: Spoilers

    "History teaches us that men behave wisely . . . once they've exhausted all other alternatives. For most rock bands, the pursuit of wisdom's a low priority compared to fame, fortune and fornication. Such a band was Strange Fruit." Thus begins the opening dialog of Hughie, (Billy Connolly) as he launches into a brief history of the British band: in the late 1970's Strange Fruit, consisting of guitarist Brian Lovell (Bruce Robinson), his brother and lead singer Keith, keyboard player Tony Costello (Stephen Rea), bassist Les Wickes (Jimmy Nail) and drummer Beano Baggot (Timothy Spall) were HUGE. When Keith died of a drug overdose, he was replaced on vocals by Ray Simms (Bill Nighy). Watched over by road-dog Hughie and Girl Friday Karen (Juliet Aubrey), they soldiered on until the disastrous appearance at the open-air Wisbech (U.K.) Rock Festival, when lightning struck the stage during their opening number. The already-contentious band members decided it was a sign and immediately broke up forever (all this in the first five minutes of the film). Forever, that is, until in the present (OK, 1998) Tony is spotted on Ibeza (he now stocks condoms in the restrooms at the resorts there) by the son of the Wisbech promoter, who wants to put together a 20th anniversary reunion concert with all the original acts. Tony seeks out Karen, now a divorced mother who coordinates conferences for a major hotel, suggesting a possible reunion. She is ambivalent, as is Les (now a successful roofer with a family) and Ray (a struggling solo artist with a demanding second wife -- Swedish -- and a mansion he can't afford). Beano, working in a floral nursery and hounded by the Inland Revenue (the U.K.'s IRS) is the only immediately enthusiastic bandmate. They arrange a meeting, where Karen informs them that she's tracked Brian and found his music royalties are being distributed per a bequest in his will, provoking Beano to compassionately ask if that means "the silly sod's dead?" The band again soldiers on. Hughie shows up to complete what's left of the original entourage and the band begins to practice. It becomes obvious that, beyond the normal clash of rock and roll egos, the biggest problem is Les's extreme resentment of Ray, who not only replaced one-half of a near-genius song-writing duo (the Lovell brothers) but who also refused to let Les sing even though Les considers himself a better singer than Ray (especially when it comes to a certain ballad called "The Flame Still Burns", heard briefly and only acoustically during the middle parts of the film). Karen, now the band's manager, recruits a young guitarist named Luke (Hans Matheson) to replace Brian and besides, she tells the mid-lifers, "he makes you look younger." She also tries to secure a record deal, citing the popularity of the nostalgia wave. She doesn't get it, but she does get financing for a continental European tour, to see what they've got. The band and entourage, along with Karen's daughter Clare (Rachael Stirling), ostensibly there to do the washing, etc. but really there so Karen can keep an eye on her, head across the channel and have some disastrous first concerts while slowly getting their groove back. Many humorous situations unfold during this tour, as when (for just one example) Ray, in a Dutch village, attends what he thinks is an AA meeting only to find that it's an Overeaters Anonymous gathering. The band slowly get better and better and even score a record deal before a confrontation between band members and their egos blows it all up. All seems lost until, just by luck (and a visit to a graveyard) Karen finds out that Brian Lovell isn't dead after all, but a voluntary patient at a mental health facility. She and Tony visit him and convince him to join the band. This is hard on Tony, because he's always had a thing for Karen, who's always had a thing for Brian. The band is reunited and ready to play the Wisbech reunion until the press badger Brian about his former drug use and present mental fragility. He bails and the band is set to go on without him. As they take the stage to perform the same song that they were to sing at the original Wisbech, a microphone feedback reminds Ray of the lightning strike and he freezes. To save the situation, Tony begins to play "The Flame Still Burns". Ray relinquishes the vocals to a stunned Les. Suddenly, Brian shows up in time to take the guitar solo, and the movie ends with the final strains of this song, with all of them singing. As the end titles begin to scroll, Hughie asks, "and how will the Fruits conspire to bollocks things up this time around? We wait with bated breath!"