Stemming from a hit YouTube series, ‘Svengali’ tells the story of music fanatic Dixie (Jonny Owen) as he moves from a small-town in South Wales with his girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure) to follow his dream of being a band manager in the big city. He finds the next big thing in the epically named volatile four piece The Premature Congratulations, or The Prems for short who he takes from grotty pub gigs to the listings in NME. Jonny Owen also writes and produces but it is John Hardwick who directs, his Meadows-esque shoestring budget style coming across to establish the lively London setting perfectly, elevated by a great British soundtrack.
When speaking about the tracks used, Owen talks about the origins of rock and roll and how he wanted each decade to be represented since it began and this works, showcasing the evolution straight through to the latest flavours of the month, Jake Bugg and Miles Kane. There is a clear passion and vision behind this piece, and with all the Fred Perry polo shirts, parkas and Doc Martens on show, the Mod scene is captured well. There is a hilarious moment where Dixie debates with a Camden record shop owner Don (Martin Freeman) over Mod culture.
The biggest laughs come from the many great, well placed cameos from Freeman, Michael Smiley and Matt Berry who plays an eccentric producer who sits behind his desk in loud beach shorts and flip flops. Aside from the rock raucous, at the heart of the film is the relationship between Dixie and Shell and the financial struggle they go through to fund their dream. This plays out nicely enough, but feels a little like it has been patched together to carry the narrative along, and doesn’t go deep enough. With Vicky McClure, the acting talent is definitely there to get beneath the cracks and go dark, as she has shown in her This Is England work, but sadly this doesn’t happen.
There is a lot to like about this fun flick, and for any fan of British pop culture, it a must see. Dixie is another downtrodden underdog, fighting against the odds, so it is easy to root for him, his infectious personality and naff sense of humour making him ever likeable. I feel it glamorises the lifestyle a little in the beginning, and when things take a turn for the worse for Dixie and Shell, it doesn’t ring true, losing its sense of reality. Even if the ride isn’t as interesting as it should be, the excellent music choices are certainly more than enough to see it through.