Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The comedy and characterisations in Svengali are as broad as Johnny Owen's Welsh accent, but it is thanks to his sweet, engaging central performance that the film gets away with as much as it does.

"It's obvious, isn't it?" his character Dixie asks early on and the same is true of much of the humour and plot points in a film in which none of the supporting characters are knowingly underplayed.

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Dixie is a likeable lad from a place in Wales that only exists in Movieland. He has just moved to London - or rather, the Movieland version of it - with his girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure) in the hopes of making it big in the record management biz. All he has to do is convince the band he has set his sights on, The Premature Congratulations, to let him represent them and hook up with this old best buddy Horsey (Roger Evans), who is now a hot shot with a label.

Dixieand Shell have no cash but they're happy to get by on love and low wages in the short term, renting a room from a woman from the Movieland version of Eastern Europe. Dixie may be hapless but his combination of doggedness with a smile and unshakeable optimism seem to be about to bring him some luck, until that is, he gets troubling news from home and Shell begins to get sick of playing second fiddle to the band.

The film began as a series of web shorts and that episodic hit and miss nature endures. Director John Hardwick and his cast and crew bring a real enthusiasm and energy to the film that is endearing even if they don't seem to be able to sort the good scenes from the mediocre. The film has one or two lovely moments - such as a touching scene between Dixie and his dad and some sweetly comic exchanges between Shell and Dixie but every time it drifts close to emotional reality, the mood is squandered by bad choices that take the film screeching away back to Movieland caricature and juvenile jokes. All of this would have been fine in a BBC3 five-part sitcom but the characters aren't deep enough to support a full-length feature.

Ultimately, Svengali is likely to prove a solid calling card for Owen and McClure's acting. And if he and Hardwick could rein in their desire to cram in so many characters and concentrate on developing them beyond a 'funny accent' then better things beckon in future.

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2013
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Dixie moves to London with his girlfriend, determined to become the manager of a rock band. Nothing will deter him.
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Director: John Hardwick

Writer: Jonny Owen

Starring: Jonny Owen, Vicky McClure, Roger Evans, Martin Freeman, Maxine Peake, Michael Socha, Dylan Edwards, Joel Fry, Curtis Lee Thompson, Brian Hibbard, Sharon Morgan, Morwenna Banks

Year: 2013

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2013

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