EIFF 2013: SVENGALI Movie Review
Adapted from the hugely popular web series of the same name, Svengali is an amusing if slightly forgettable satire about a naïve outsider trying to make a name for himself in the London music scene.
Directed by Jonathan Hardwick, the film stars Jonny Owen in the leading role of Dixie, a Welshman with grand ambitions of becoming the next star manager in the British music business following in the shoes of Brian Epstein and Alan McGee. He discovers a talented, fresh-faced new act called The Premature Congratulations who he believes will be the next big thing and travels to London with his girlfriend Shell, played by This Is England star Vicky McClure. However, the industry proves to be an unforgiving world and Dixie struggles to get his foot in the door, soon falling into debt and risking losing everything, including the love of his life.
At its heart, Svengali is a universal tale. Dixie’s commitment to following his dreams from the modest countryside of Wales to the bustling alien metropolis of London no matter what the gamble is something that audiences will surely be able to relate to. Likeably performed by Owen as a modest, grounded everyman, you root for him and his band to triumph over their constant string of failures and disappointments.
But the familiar concept is given a unique edge by its setting in the world of music. Having been in a band himself for several years, Jonny Owen’s insight into the absurdity of this scene is immediately evident in Svengali, from the idiosyncratic executives to the riotous industry showcases. What’s also evident, furthermore, is that Owen is deeply passionate about music, so while he’s frequently frank in his depiction of the ludicrousness and unfairness, he manages to balance that with a romanticism for the industry.
This sentimental approach, however, is where Svengali shoots itself in the foot, rendering it unlikely to become the cult hit it could have and should have been. It may have earned Owen and Hardwick some pleasing cameos from the likes of the aforementioned Alan McGee and The Libertines guitarist Carl Baret, but it also means it crucially lacks the bite necessary for a memorable satire. It sees the world through such rose-tinted glasses that the gags lack venom while Dixie’s struggle to break into the industry never really feels like much of a struggle at all.
Nonetheless, Svengali is good-natured and well-intentioned enough to work in spite of its flaws. Dixie’s journey is a touching one full of charm and heart that promises to leave you with a smile on your face as you head for the exit.
Svengali shows at the Edinburgh Film Festival on June 21st and 22nd