Svengali (3 stars)


A Britpop comedy that has its faults but succeeds on a sweet and funny performance from Jonny Owen

This good-natured British music industry spoof began life as a series of short YouTube skits, and consequently runs out of steam a good while before its 90 minutes are up. But it is nonetheless a likeable showcase for its writer and star, Welsh comedian Jonny Owen. He plays Dixie, a naïve music fan from rural Wales, culturally trapped in the mid-90s heyday of Britpop (he wears a furry-necked parka without irony). When he stumbles across new band The Premature Congratulations on YouTube he immediately decides that not only are they ‘the next Oasis’, but that he is the man to manage and guide them to stardom: he is clearly a fool, but Owen conveys his guileless optimism with irresistible charm.

The film essentially has one joke, placing this character in the middle of London’s music industry of preening tastemakers (or more accurately a broad parody of that world) and milking the clash of cultures for all its worth. It’s not the freshest idea but there is a lightness of touch to director John Hardwick’s approach that ensures Svengali provokes more chuckles than groans.

As is often the case with low budget British comedy projects, various big names appear in bit parts, and as is also par for the course, the results are variable: Martin Freeman should be funny as a snobbish mod record store owner, but his scenes feel flat, whereas The Mighty Boosh’s Matt Berry is spot-on hilarious as an eccentric record company head. Unbelievably, Scottish music mogul Alan McGee displays decent comic chops in a key cameo.

It’s not hard to find faults with Svengali – for starters its attempts at drama fail completely, and the four terrible actors who play Dixie’s band members must have been cast solely based on looking the part – but it is sweet and funny, and in this case that’s just about good enough.

Screening at Cineworld Fountainpark, Fri 21 Jun & Sat 22 Jun as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013.


  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • UK
  • 1h 33min
  • 15
  • Directed by: John Hardwick
  • Written by: Jonny Owen
  • Cast: Martin Freeman, Vicky McClure, Michael Socha
  • UK release: 21 March 2014

A couple head for London where one of them dreams of managing a rock band. Based on a cult YouTube series.