Movie Review: SVENGALI (UK 2015)

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svengali_posterSVENGALI (UK 2013) **1/2
Directed by John Hardwick

Review by Gilbert Seah

The story of this straight to Video on demand British film is as simple the mind of the lead character who nicknames himself Dixie (Jonny Owen). Dixie leaves his small Welsh mining town for the big city of London. He intends to become the manager of what he thinks is the best band in the world. This he thinks after watching them on Youtube. He brings along to London his long-suffering girlfriend, Shell (Vicky McClure). Things are not that straightforward in the big city but Dixie and Shell manage somehow.

As the ads ask, can Dixie manage a relationship, a band and his life? That is what director Hardwick (mostly British TV stuff) intends his audience to find out.

Hardwick’s film has several charms. For one, the lead character, though annoying that he may be at times, wearing the same old disgusting vintage parka and carrying around a Tesco plastic bag, is a loveable lug who always means well. His favourite words are: “I am sorry” uttered with his Welsh accent. It is hard not to feel for a small town boy (big though he may be) moving to London in search of his big dream.

Newcomer Jonny Owen isn’t half bad as Dixie. He basically plays himself, a music enthusiast, star and producer of his own internet-based sketches of the same title in real life, which he has expanded for the big screen. But running at 90 minutes, the task becomes massive and different from the execution of short skits on the net. The little jokes and humour fail to sustain, and the one idea film soon runs out of steam. The story is also too predictable but there are a few prize characters such as the fat pop drinking Russian landlady. The camera is fond of showing her ass.

It would be an additional bonus if the band did put out some good songs on film. As it is, the band members are all shown as a lot of arguing misfits.

The word Svengali, the film title, refers to a person who manipulates or exerts excessive force over another. It also refers to a character in the George Du Maurier’s 1895 novel made into a film several times called Svengali who hypnotizes and brings to fame a young singer. It is not clear which of the three director Hardwick or writer Owen has fashioned his title from. Dixie manipulates his girlfriend and the band to stardom, though not with excessive force.

The film contains cameos from several TV personalities that North Americans will not be familiar with. Martin Freeman from the three Lord of the Rings HOBBIT films is perhaps the only one recognizable.

It is difficult to envisage huge North American audiences getting too excited about this small British export. Unless one is ex-British staying in North America, in the music business industry, in a struggling band or have Welsh roots, SVENGALI will have little appeal. This film therefore goes straight to VOD (video on demand) skipping the theatres on January the 10th. Myself, I visited Wales 2 years back, which is the main reason this little film attracted me to review.

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