This highly stylised musical adaptation of Colin MacInnes’ novel celebrates the rise teen culture in late 50s London with a mish-mash of pop fashions and political and racial overtones.
There are ample energetic song and dance numbers, at times reminiscent of West Side Story (1961). There are also violent confrontations, and all in all, it’s a dazzling retro-soaked colourful visual feast.
In 1958 London, Colin (Eddie O’Connell) – an aspiring young photographer – loses his girlfriend, Suzette (Patsy Kensit), to the head of a fashion house.
“Crepe” Suzette is an impulsive, ambitious young beauty who abandons him after attracting the attention of a powerful fashion designer, Henley of Mayfair (James Fox).
Meanwhile, Colin helps the flashy agent Harry Charms (Lionel Blair) build up lame novelty rock singer Baby Boom (Chris Pitt), a pubescent would-be teen idol.
Through Harry, Colin is wooed to work for Vendice Partners (David Bowie), a super-connected pop and business whiz that claims to have the answer for everything and everybody.
Not only does Vendice want to stifle Colin’s creativity, he’s a partner in a real estate scheme to eject the black population of Notting Hill, to gentrify the place with a new expensive housing development.
Vendice Partners hires Teddy Boy thugs to intimidate the black residents.
Colin’s best friend, Jazz musician Mr Cool (Tony Hippolyte) has no choice but to get into the race riot
The film’s nostalgic yet gently satirical look at teen culture is tempered by a recognition of the era’s social tension, particularly a disturbing rise in racism.
The film’s historically accurate violent finish stages a clash between thugs and a new population of Commonwealth immigrants from Africa, the West Indies and India that had started to pour into Britain around 1955.
Despite these serious undertones, the film tells its story with a colourful vibrancy reminiscent of both MTV and old Hollywood musicals, filled with such show-stopping numbers as a memorable sequence in which Bowie dances on a giant typewriter.
Critical reception was mixed, with some hailing the film’s spectacular cinematography and ambitious scope, while others found the mixture of tones and style too inconsistent.
The film also drew a lukewarm response at the box office, with the memorable soundtrack receiving more attention than the film itself.
Watch out for terrific cameos from Sandie Shaw, Alan Freeman, Zoot Money, Steven Berkoff, Ray Davies (of The Kinks), Mandy Rice-Davies, Eddie Tenpole and Sade (pictured above).
Henley of Mayfair
Ed the Ted
The Misery Kid
Chez Nobody Barman
Baby Boom’s Mum
Bert the Tailor
Ms Cool, Sr
Mr Cool, Sr