Many Reasons to be Cheerful in a stylish Blu-ray celebration of Ian Dury

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
(Entertainent in Video Blu-ray, Cert 15)

Confession time: I'm old enough to have seen the Pistols during their brief moment in the sun, to have emerged drenched in sweat, beer and god knows what else into a cold night from Clash gigs, and to have done my first ever interview, for a student magazine, with Tom Robinson – just as 2-4-6-8 Motorway headed up the charts.

But none of those made the biggest impression: what did was the mixture of snarling punkery and music-hall comedy that was Ian Dury at the peak of his powers, backed by The Blockheads on a tight, interlocked steamroller charge.

It wasn't always a given: Dury could be capricious and moody when you were expecting clowning and humour, and the band shambolic as often as it was totally connected, but those were – and are – some of the best gigs I have ever attended.

So I approached Mat Whitecross's Dury biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – what else could they have called it? – with some trepidation: never a happy experience having one's teenage memories trashed, or simply disrespected.

I needn't have worried: yes, S&D&R&R has a lot of style, from the titles designed by Dury's art tutor, Peter Blake, to the sequence in which The Blockheads are first gathered; but it also has substance, most of all in a jaw-dropping performance in the title role by Andy Serkis who, simply, is Ian Dury.

Swaggering, sneering and yet fragile and vulnerable, Serkis makes the story of Dury, crippled by polio as a child, troubled in his personal life and haunted by memories of his father and time in a home for 'raspberry ripples', into one with which it's easy to sympathise.

Far from being the simple, if slightly odd, geezer of his stage performances, Dury is shown to have depths and weaknesses, and to be not always entirely at ease with his fame.

At the height of his success, his son Baxter – who appeared beside his dad on the New Boots... cover – asks Dury 'Are we posh?', to which his father replies 'No - we're Arts and Crafts'. Therein is the sense of Dury, art-school trained, being more than just a man able to knock out hits with his writing partner Chaz Jankel, played here somewhat one-dimensionally by Tom Hughes.

The anchor of this film is Serkis, never more remarkable than when on stage as Dury. The Blockheads re-recorded the hits with Serkis on vocals for the film, and even the real Jankel, interviewed in the slim extras on the Blu-ray, admits the performance is uncanny, while the sense of on-stage realism is aided by the casting of actor/musicians to play the band, so they actually look like they know what they're doing.

Andy Serkis rehearsing with the real Blockheads

Andy Serkis rehearsing with the real Blockheads

From those garish opening Peter Blake graphics to the grit of the 'special school' and the sun-blasted exteriors of Dury's house (a very big house) in the country, the video quality here, in 1.78:1, is extremely good, while the sound – in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 – is exemplary.

Dialogue is crystal clear – or in Dury's case diamond geezer – and when the band fires up it stands up well to the excellent original recordings of the tracks, that unstoppable rhythm section behind Serkis's voice. Even in the spit and anger of Spascticus Autisticus, complete with scenes from Spartacus projected above their heads, the band sounds on good form as ever, every instrument clear and vibrant.

Add in fine turns by the likes of Ray Winstone (above), as Dury's chauffeur father, Olivia Williams and Naomie Harris as the women in Dury's life, a confident performance by Bill Milner as Baxter, and Toby Jones as the Dickensian overseer of Dury's childhood nightmares, and you have a film well worth more than the one watch, and a smart buy on Blu-ray for Clever Trevors and Billericay Dickies alike.

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.