Svengali (2014) – Review

Blind optimism and painfully positive enthusiasm, There is something to be said for always looking on the bright side of life, oblivious to the shackles that most of us are victims of throughout our everyday adventures.

Two such examples rendered seemingly effortlessly here are Dixie (Jonny Owen) and Shell (Vicky McClure). A lovely and loving young couple from the depths of Wales, that move to London in pursuit of Dixie’s dream; to become the manager of one of the best new bands in the country. A band he saw on the internet and thought they were ‘brilliant’. So they travel to meet them, to try and convince them to let Dixie manage them, offering them a gentlemens’ agreement. A deal forged with a beer and a handshake. Dixie’s word is his bond. If only everybody said what they meant and meant what they said.
A self-confessed ‘kind of’ Mod, adorned in a parka, Dixie is the epitome of a lost and innocent sheep in the big city, through what seems like sheer blind luck, manages to survive, mostly on his good-nature, the love of his family and the odd spot of good fortune. He and Shell fork out the rent for a flat they haven’t even seen, owned by the frankly terrifying Katya (Katy Brand) and when the bills start rolling in, they are forced to look for work, with Dixie getting a job in Don’s Records, run by Don (unsurprisingly), played by Martin Freeman. A fact which Owen himself is not shy to admit that was probably the reason the film got made at all. Without a hefty leg up from Bilbo, it’s safe to say that this indeed wouldn’t have seen the light of day.
And this would have been a crying shame had it not been greenlit as Dixie and Shell are both highly infectious and appealing characters, despite (or maybe because of) their apparent naivety. Living life as a permanent opportunity and making a new friend from every acquaintance seems to be what gets the two of them through their days and their life together, whilst never being easy, is brimming with joy that will warm the hearts of audiences everywhere. They are two excellently realised characters that are sublimely easy to engage with. You might even be lucky enough to know a Dixie already, even if you may roll your eyes when their name comes up in conversation with others. Vicky McClure’s Shell is loyal, patient and not as green as she first appears, but loves Dixie completely. As the extent of their problems become evident to her, on the very cusp of success, their relationship is tested and we see a new side to Owen and McClure that has been missing for maybe an hour, that being their ability to grab a serious scene by the throat and show off their undeniable acting skills, which prove to be powerful and sobering in a piece brimming with such optimism and frivolity.
Overall, Svengali is a great feel-good project enjoying great direction, with a simple tale of learning about what really is important in life. It takes some genuine souls and puts them through the ringer and the audience can be forgiven for being angry on Dixie’s behalf on occasion, such is the level of engagement with his character. Stylistically, it’s far from original but familiar and comfortable viewing for pretty much everyone that cares to take a glance. The script is not overly ambitious, but the delivery makes up for any lack of syle or quality in Jonny Owen’s script. The main objective seems to be one of keeping it real, which was achieved very well indeed. The laughs are there, but this is less what is said, but how it comes across. It was absolutely essential that audiences warmed to the main characters, which was easy to do, and the film is an unqualified success because of it.

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