As the era of punk rock’s beginnings fades further into the past- nearing 40 years ago now- the stories of those involved and those who pioneered the music of that time is that much more interesting. Ian Dury might not be in the household vocabulary of people other than punk aficionados, but he was an influence on many of the bands of that era who are familiar to most.
“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” doesn’t document the early ’70s or even punk rock necessarily, but rather gives us a glimpse of Dury’s life and how his lyrical brilliance inspired scores of bands and music for the next generation.
The film is well-crafted and Dury’s life is interesting, but the performance of Andy Serkis (“Lord of the Rings,” “King Kong”) is what makes this film notable. Not only does he fit the animated look that Dury had, but he brings authenticity and true passion to the role. It doesn’t hurt that the film is jam-packed with talent, including the young Bill Millner who plays Dury’s son Baxter with a wise-beyond his age demeanor.
“Ian Dury and the Blockheads” had hits including “Reasons to be Cheerful” and “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” which may not be familiar, but are recognizable upon listening. Although the film is about music and the huge role Dury played in the punk, rock and new wave music movements, the bulk of the film focuses on Dury’s relationship with his son. He struggled in his relationship with his absentee father, played in a powerful minor role by Ray Winstone (“The Departed,” “Sexy Beast”) after he was struck with polio as a child and left crippled. We get glimpses of their relationship, and the sad separation that Dury endured when his father left him in the care of a hospital for disabled children run by the sinister Hargreaves, played by Toby Jones (“Frost/Nixon,” “Infamous”).
The tumultuous relationship that Dury has with his own son is at once endearing, frustrating and downright scary as young Dury not only watches his father’s tug of war with fame, his disability, his disastrous marriage and affair, drugs, and the rock-n-roll lifestyle, but also occasionally participates.
Through all of this, the quiet elegance of Olivia Williams paints Dury’s first wife Betty as a near-saint, putting up with his antics and supporting him throughout his career and his evident lack of parenting to his daughter, and even more so, his son. She even elegantly handles his affair with Denise Roudette played by Naomie Harris. Harris is strong in the role of Roudette, and depicts another force in Dury’s life that loves and supports him in his music. Dury’s eventual implosion of female relationships in his life doesn’t change the impact they had on his life and his career in music, which might not have happened at all had they not existed.
As he says in the film, Dury never thought about being a singer, he just always wanted to be a performer, and that comes across in the scenes onstage. The film shows off his theatrics and is stylized in its use of graphics and transitional scenes are fun to look at, and emphasize what Dury was all about- a master at lyrics, but above that a storyteller for the masses.
“Ian Dury and the Blockheads” influenced the likes of The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and many more even up to today’s bands who have referenced them as a serious influence. The thoughtful script and talent behind it has made “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” a genuine telling of a figure of that era, a man with a disability, and a document of father/son relationships. Although he may be gone, his music goes on and this film hopefully will be the spark to get a new audience for his unique and groundbreaking songs.