Nick Moran's film started life as a play, which he co-wrote with James Hicks. It was Con O'Neill who took the lead role of record producer Joe Meek in the West End and who revives it in the film version. The film is well made, well acted on the whole and certainly has a courageous central performance from O'Neill and only falters in one major way: Joe Meek was a complete c**t. This is why O'Neill's performance is courageous, he's not afraid of making him unsympathetic, his moments of clarity and affection few and far between, not to mention fully committing to his Gloucester accent (O'Neill used to work as an accent coach), a first surely for the silver screen. Meek was the man behind hits like 'Johnny, Remember Me', 'Just Like Eddie' and 'Telstar', recorded in a ramshackle studio housed above a handbag shop on Holloway Road, which is faithfully recreated for the film and where most of the action takes place (spot the script adapted from a stage play). This combination of manic genius producer and upstairs/downstairs comedy makes it a bit like watching an episode of Are You Being Served starring Phil Spector. Well, not really, but it's as bonkers an image as what you get, with opera singers recording in the loo and marbles being tossed down the toilet to record sound effects there's a manic energy to the proceedings.
O'Neill is excellent as I said and there's no doubt that his life lends an interesting narrative (one of many who passed on The Beatles it seems) to the film but there's no escaping the fact that despite the spiralling depression and mental instability you don't ever really care about him, so unpleasant has he been to those around him. His song writing partner Geoff Goddard is portrayed brilliantly by Tom Burke in a well judged and subtle performance. His protege Heinz is served equally well by JJ Feild and there is good support from brit flick regulars James Corden and Ralph Little. What to make of Kevin Spacey as Meek's backer Major Banks though. It isn't that the performance is particularly good or bad, it's just that it's Kevin Spacey in the middle of this very British film, looking about as conspicuous as he would if he walked into, well, a handbag shop on Holloway Road. Maybe he was part of the financing deal but there's no excuse for some very weird cameo performances from Marcus Brigstocke, Jimmy Carr, Justin Hawkins (from The Darkness - as Lord Sutch - I kid you not) and even author Jake Arnott. Carl Barat (of The Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things) takes the honours though in a cringeworthy turn as Gene Vincent, his American accent does not bode well for his upcoming stage debut alongside Sadie Frost in Sam Shepherd's Fool For Love. All of these celebrity turns don't do anything to help the film, especially when the real gold is coming from O'Neill and Feild, two actors who many won't have heard of, quietly getting on with things whilst the circus whirls around them.
Meek's sexuality allows the film to take a look at attitudes to homosexuality in the period leading up to the sexual revolution but this isn't a film trying to make a point much beyond the four walls of Meek's studio. It's a shame in that case that there isn't more of the music, or more of an insight into what he did as a producer to so hone that sound (especially given that he was tone deaf). I should be recommending this film, it's certainly streets ahead of most of the drivel that we seem to produce here with alarming frequency, but it's just not that enjoyable.