10 August 2014 | l_rawjalaurence
Straightforward Tale of Thwarted Ambition
SVENGALI tales a straightforward tale of a would-be band manager Dixie (Jonny Owen) traveling up from his home in the Welsh valleys to manage a band. The band achieved a certain notoriety (pace the Sex Pistols) and secure a BBC recording session as well as numerous offers of recording contracts. Dixie tries his best to keep them under control, but finds the strain too much and eventually returns home with his girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure). This film is very much a one-person show: Owen not only stars in it, but wrote the script and produced it. Director John Hardwick keeps the action going at a brisk pace, and there is some atmospheric cinematography by Catherine Derry, contrasting the lonely Welsh and Scottish rural locations with the urban squalor of central London. The film makes some trenchant points about the difficulties of surviving in the Smoke, especially when Dixie and Shell have to deal with a formidable central European landlady (Katy Brand). There are some memorable cameos by Martin Freeman as a record-shop owner and Maxine Peake as his long-suffering spouse desperately trying to prevent her husband from losing his temper. The story is a familiar one, but Owen turns in a winning central performance as Dixie: after what he experiences in trying to keep the band together, as well as dealing with a series of rapacious characters including loan-shark Teddy (Eddie Webber) and vamp Natasha (Natasha O'Keeffe), it's not surprising that he wants to return to the comparative security of home. In his final film before his untimely death, Brian Hibbard turns in a memorable cameo as Dixie's Dad; the scene where father and son talk to one another on a wind-swept Welsh mountain is particularly affecting.