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  McVicar Sick Of Porridge
Year: 1980
Director: Tom Clegg
Stars: Roger Daltrey, Adam Faith, Cheryl Campbell, Billy Murray, Georgina Hale, Steven Berkoff, Brian Hall, Peter Jonfield, Matthew Scurfield, Leonard Gregory, Ralph Watson, Tony Haygarth, Tony Rohr, Malcolm Tierney, Michael Feast, Jamie Foreman, Ian Hendry
Genre: Drama, Thriller, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: John McVicar (Roger Daltrey) is in prison serving a sentence for armed robbery. Asleep in his cell he is rudely awoken by the guards opening the door and ordering him out, telling him to put on the clothes they have provided for him, though he is very annoyed they are not offering him his trainers to wear and instead want him to wear more officially sanctioned brogues, and makes this clear in no uncertain terms. The guards eventually relent, but like it or not McVicar is being transferred to a high security jail in the North of England...

This sort of biopic of one of Britain's most notorious prisoners was one of the few movies produced by rock band The Who under their Who Films banner. Their previous two had been the documentary The Kids are Alright and the adaptation of their concept album Quadrophenia from the year before, but for this Roger Daltrey fancied the opportunity to flex his acting muscles and the real John McVicar teamed up with (usually television) director Tom Clegg to pen a script based on McVicar's autobiographical book, which had been a big seller in the United Kingdom, as befitting the nation's fascination with wrongdoers.

Daltrey was very effective in the role, certainly more impressive than he was in other moves, which suggested this had been crafted to his specific talents more than say, The Legacy where he had been wheeled on like a guest star for a cast of recognisable names. Joining him were a host of well known faces, if not well-known names, of the kind that Clegg would direct in his small screen work, though Adam Faith as Walter Probyn, the man who instigates McVicar's escape attempt from that high security prison, added some additional rock star (well, pop star) quality and Steven Berkoff appeared as the prisoner who could very well mess up the grand plan for fleeing their bonds.

Although this had a strong basis in fact, as the card at the beginning said certain liberties had been taken, things changed and representations of real people either given different names or amalgamated into composite characters, offering true crime fans the opportunity to guess who was supposed to be whom. The most obvious one is a version of Moors Murderer Ian Brady, who is pointedly portrayed so as to reassure the audience that McVicar may be a violent criminal, but he would never sink as low as that offender, as if there were tiers of acceptability within the criminal fraternity. Whether you bought into that was up to you as these men were in this jail for a reason, and that was their danger to the public.

With all that qualifying out of the way, the film could proceed with what it was really interested in, and that was how its antihero managed to get free - even the theme song is Daltrey's solo hit Free Me just to underline what the movie was about. As Wally works away at a hole in the shower room wall which he ingeniously conceals with his art project's papier maché, McVicar is the lookout, though this does make you notice Rog spends a lot of the running time either with his shirt off or even completely naked, as if he was trying to prove that he still had it in the chiselled rock star stakes. Anyway, McVicar does get away, and the rest of the film details his life on the run, which should have been more exciting but plays a lot more domestic with partner Cheryl Campbell and the son he never knew, all very well but not much in comparison with the well-portrayed grit of what we saw before, no matter how many montages they present. Frustratingly, we never see him reform either, exposing a work more interested in the outlaw than his redemption. Music by Jeff Wayne.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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