Film review: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

The bullying, the booze, the music. Ian Dury was not a person to be defined by his disabilities, writes Liz Sayce

Mat Whitecross’s film on the life of Ian Dury, played by Andy Serkis, has received rave reviews for its powerful portrait of a troubled rock star. But there is also a sparky – yet subtle – take on the equality of disabled people.

Dury contracted polio as a child, which left him needing a stick and leg calliper throughout his adult life. The film switches between his career in music and a childhood spent in a harsh residential school for kids with polio.

Scenes of bullying and humiliation are interspersed with drugs, booze and fraught relationships in adult life.

You might suspect the institution screwed him up, but it is far more complicated than that. Physical difference is not seen as problematic but rather filmed up-close-and-personal – in sex, and in father-son scenes (with Dury’s son helping him put his “leg” on).

Dury’s life force also contained moments of bitterness and anger. When the orderly who tormented him hangs himself years later he enjoys the sense of revenge.

He rages at the BBC for banning the song he wrote for the International Year of Disabled People (Spasticus Autisticus). Yet the scenes in which a worthy Spastics Society officer has to endure a torrent of Dury emotion are among the most witty in the film.

But if Sex and Drugs does tackle themes of disability it never overstates their significance. Dury was simply not definable by his disability.

Some will object to the lengths Serkis goes to get inside Dury’s body – he trained himself to limp by wearing a 1970s-style calliper and “worked out” only one side of his body.

However, this is a life-affirming, witty and raging movie that touches on rights to life and dignity, without using the well-worn narratives of disability rights.

Liz Sayce is chief executive of Radar, the Royal Association for Disability Rights

This article is published in the 21 January issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Witty and life-affirming

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