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Quadrophenia (1979) Review

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I missed out on all three when they hit their peak in the 60s, mainly because I hadn’t been born. Not having the chance to glimpse at the initial lifespan of the mods and rockers era of British culture with anything but a historic head and a love for the music that appeared during this period. I’m a huge fan of a culture’s music that I was never involved in. The Who, The Ronette’s, The Kingsmen, Booker T & the M.G.’s and The Crystals dominated this period, and have since carved a soft spot in my ever-questionable music taste. Quadrophenia is the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the pill-popping, brown ale swirling period of 60s culture. 

It’s a good thing that Quadrophenia is perhaps one of the best British films ever made. A proud badge to wear alongside a slew of classically made films, lovingly directed and starring some of the most prominent faces around. Phil Daniels (the man from Blur’s Parklife video) stars as Jimmy, a rebellious youth that spearheads a story that blends coming of age with historical happenstance. Encircling the ever-exciting trip to Brighton beach, Jimmy and his gang of mod friends gear up for the trip of a lifetime, where mods and rockers clash on the streets and beach.  

Were it not for the feverishly excellent lead performance from Daniels, Quadrophenia could’ve been a complete bust. I’m no fan of coming of age films, and Quadrophenia is the spitting image of a coming of age story following a young and optimistic youth. Managing to evade all possible pot holes of such a shaky genre, it’s rather impressive how enjoyable the film is. Director Frank Roddam doesn’t give us enough to understand his quirks and style as a director, and by the looks of his filmography he never really had a style. He’s there to make sure we get the best out of our characters, and that’s exactly what happens here. 

Superb supporting performances from Leslie Ash, Phil Davis, Mark Wingett and Sting make up a collective ensemble of likeable misanthropes who come and go as they please. Each performance grasps at the nature of the period with ferocity. It’s really great to see this dedication doubled down upon with some great recreations of infamous mod and rocker clashes. Most of the supporting performances pave the way for some comfortable subplots, a handful of expectedly jovial scenes and the inevitable fallout.  

Even if you’re not a fan of The Who, then there’s something engaging about Quadrophenia. I’m not their greatest fan, and to be honest the film manages to move away from the expected tropes of their previous movies. Daniels’ leading performance bursts through with clear love for the time period he and the supporting cast look to replicate. It’s rather resounding of this cultural wave, an influential time in British music and even moreso for the shifting youth within. 

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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