Svengali sees YouTube stars Dixie (Jonny Owen) and Shell (Vicky McClure) relocate to London so that the former can realise his dream of managing a great rock band. With an old friend already making a name for himself in the industry, and coincidence leaving him with Alan McGee’s phone number, Dixie is convinced that his time has come, and that it’s now or never.
Writer, producer and star, Jonny Owen has done an undeniably admiral job adapting the series for cinema audiences, even managing to breathe some life into what is a relatively tired narrative convention. Dixie is a likeable lead, forever running through the streets of London with his trusty Tesco carrier bags and a near-endless enthusiasm that seems unfazed by insufficient funds and persistent thugs. Shell, too, provides sympathetic support, even if she does disappear rather unceremoniously during the film’s second act. Together they manage to root the drama with a relationship that for the most part feels real and relatable. They are pleasant people to be around.
In fact, there aren’t really any performances that fall below par, largely thanks to director John Hardwick’s decision to fill the peripheral parts with more seasoned performers — basically anyone he could get. Martin Freeman and Maxine Peak may feature in a subplot that adds little to the overarching narrative but they are still a joy to watch, while the band, The Premature Congratulations — although underdeveloped — does hold a certain intrigue.
It is The IT Crowd’s Matt Berry who comes closest to stealing the show as Jeremy Braines, his pithy put-downs standing out in an otherwise pretty perfunctory script. Only Katy Brand jars, but that’s mostly due to a caricatured Eastern European accent that’s never satisfactorily justified.
Considering that the majority of recent Brit-coms have been crushing embarrassments, it is refreshing to watch a film that draws together characters from across the British Isles in a way that is not only watchable, but reasonably well put together too. The plot may not quite hold together (their minimal money seems to go an awfully long way), it’s less a comedy than a slightly wry drama and the film might well outstay its welcome, but Svengali still manages to hit more often than it misses.