Director: Mat Whitecross Release Date: 8th January 2010. Review by Jack Burton Poet. Proto-punk. Polio victim. Pain in the arse. If you’re already a fan of Ian Dury’s unique brand of musical hall inflected funk (and you should be) then it will come as no surprise that a film of his life pays close attention to the first three of these crucial elements, forming the backbone of his enduring musical, cultural and social legacy. By the end of Mat Whitecross’ bold and revealing biopic however, it might well be the latter term that has come to define your image of the man behind the music. Presented as a series of flashbacks, narrated from the stage by the man himself, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll uses a punkish bricolage of styles that help focus the dramatic emphasis on Dury’s tumultuous personal life. Sombre flashbacks of his battle with polio, its lifelong after-effects and his complex relationship with his father are contrasted with playful pop art montages telling the story of his rise to pop stardom. This contrast grows greater as Dury’s withdrawal into the increasing unreality and irresponsibility of fame threatens to destroy both his relationship with his family and with the musicians who helped make his name. Much has already been written in praise of Andy Serkis’ performance in the main role, all of it entirely justified. He inhabits Dury completely, resurrecting his iconic gait (falling somewhere between unsteady limp and aggressive swagger) and balancing his vocal performance, both speaking and singing, on the cusp of imitation and reinterpretation. Tempering the drive, ambition and anger that motivated Dury with the genuine charm that ensured even those at the sharper end of his worst excesses struggled to walk away, Serkis dominates every scene of the film just as surely as he will dominate nomination lists this award season. And it’s a good job that he does, as this is very much Ian’s story. Between his troubled relationship with his young son Baxter (the remarkable Bill Milner) and reminiscences of his own stoical father (Ray Winstone), other important figures show a tendency to drift in and out of the story as Dury seduces or offends them. Olivia Williams, as his ex-wife Betty, makes some impact in the few scenes they share while main musical collaborator Chaz Jankel pops up every now and then to dash off another hit single. The rest of The Blockheads, on the other hand, are pretty much dispensed with in a couple of cheeky montages, while the complicated nature of Dury’s class background (his mother is never mentioned) is glossed over in favour of a ‘cockney geezer comes good’ story. While this may prove a niggling problem for established fans eager to learn more about the creation of the music they love, the more casual viewer will probably be thankful that Whitecross has chosen to focus on the ample human drama and conflict behind the feelgood hits. Pitched more as family drama than musical documentary, the film still offers enough energy, invention and style (not to mention excellent music) to satisfy fan and non-fan alike. Like its hero, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is ambitious, unpredictable, sometimes flawed but always engaging, with an incredible performance at its heart. And that’s enough to add it to your list of reasons to be cheerful. Rating: 8/10