Teenager Tom (Nicholas Galitzine) is an only child living with his single mum in a South London council flat. He’s bullied at school, is apparently friendless and his mum Mary (Lisa Dillon) is a God-fearing nurse with a bit of a drink problem. His feckless dad turns up occasionally, and it is from dad that Tom has inherited his love of music, though his dad’s beaten up old guitar is kept hidden from Mary, who disapproves of all things rock and roll.
It is into this setting that Steve (Luke Perry) moves in downstairs, playing hardcore rock music at all hours. When Mary and Tom confront Steve, Tom recognises his tattoo: Steve is the famous Nothing front man who faked his own death. This is Tom’s ticket into Steve’s lair, having blackmailed the guitarist into giving him lessons. Thus a prickly relationship begins between these two damaged men: in symbiosis, Steve mourning the death of his child and Tom mourning the betrayal and loss of his father, they gradually feed off each other and overcome their mutual pain.
Perry, who always looked way too cool – and frankly way too old – for school back in his Beverly Hills 90210 days, brings much of that careworn coolness to Balham and it works a treat. The glamour of his Hollywood otherness is countered by his slept-in face and slouchy attitude, and we can believe that this once major star could easily walk the streets of Balham without worrying too much about screaming fans. An accident has left Steve physically damaged, and when he walks there is something of Ian Dury about his gait. Yet it is clear that Steve is much more crippled emotionally. Tom has his own scars due to self-harm, lacerating the skin on his arms. Galitzine’s performance is also commendable, with the right amount of gawky weirdness and boyish vulnerability. He is also a beauty, with the same alabaster-skinned, full-lipped loveliness of Jonathan Rhys Meyers or Cillian Murphy.
Williams has made some odd stylistic choices, using animation for the songs, turning them into a sort of music video detour that makes them seem apart from the film rather than intrinsic to the storyline. Another issue is that the characters and storyline are a little trite: the bully is too much of a bully, the mum too much a Christian do-gooder, the dad too much of a wanker. With a little more subtlety and a less corny outcome, this film could have been so much better. Yet The Beat Beneath My Feet offers a fond reminder of why we all loved Luke and introduces a bright young talent in its lead.