List Film

Soul Boys of the Western World (3 stars)

Documentary charting the fluctuating fortunes of Spandau Ballet from George Hencken

Soul Boys of the Western World

Spandau Ballet might not seem the hippest subjects for a documentary. Formed in the late Seventies, they hit the charts in the early Eighties as the New Romantic scene blossomed, but this five-piece all-male band from Islington were hardly musical innovators. Led by crooning lead singer Tony Hadley and songwriter Gary Kemp, along with his bass-playing brother Martin, they rode the crest of the wave, battling with Duran Duran for Top of the Pops supremacy with slickly produced hits like ‘Gold’ and ‘True’.

So credit then to director George Hencken for ensuring this trawl through the band’s history has enough guile and guts to keep you watching. Hencken, who previously produced Julien Temple’s sensational archive-driven London - The Modern Babylon, clearly understands the potency of old footage, and there’s a wealth of material here: from home-movie stock to clips of the Blitz, the London club where New Romantics gathered.

For retro-hounds this will be a nostalgia kick, though you sense that Hencken’s political context-setting is almost irrelevant. Here was a music scene based on the superficial, 'living on champagne, cocaine and adrenaline,' as we’re told. It was never about spitting in the face of authority. Indeed, as suggested by its cheeky play-on-words title, these playboys were five guys simply enjoying the rush of superstardom, Eighties-style.

While that’s acceptable, that Hencken chose to narrate the film via voiceover contributions from the band seems strange. We never see them as they are now. Instead, we’re treated to disembodied snippets that feel scripted and certainly lessen the impact when we hit the band’s later years: their acrimonious split, the fractious royalties lawsuit and the eventual reunion and comeback tour. Hencken rather glosses over the more contentious issues, presumably for fear of disturbing the band’s new-found harmony; a pity, because you sense that’s where the real gold could have been found.

Selected release from Tue 30 Sep.

Soul Boys of The Western World - Official Trailer

Soul Boys of the Western World

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • UK
  • 102 min
  • Directed by: George Hencken
  • Cast: Tony Hadley, John Keeble, Gary Kemp
  • UK release: 30 September 2014

Documentary about Islington's own Spandau Ballet, charting their rise to Eighties superstardom, subsequent acrimonious split, royalties lawsuit and eventual reunion. Hencken has the band narrate their own story in voiceover, glossing over the more contentious issues; pity, as you sense that's where he would have found the…


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