Lawrence really wanted to be famous. He sensed he had all the right accoutrements for it, he had the personality of a star, he had the talent to write and play catchy pop songs and he was willing to sell out to the biggest offer if it came to that. But somehow it never happened: he remembers being a child and feeling as if he had nothing in common with his family, who he considered idiots for not sharing his vision and insight. He moved from Birmingham to London early to get to where the action was, and his first band Felt made waves in the music press, but couldn't gain much traction as far as generating Lawrence's much-yearned for millions of pounds were concerned. Now he's living hand to mouth, being evicted from his flat.
For some people, no matter how talented they are, they're never going to make it as big successes because the circumstances would never be right, they just didn't have the staying power, or simply the fortune did not fall in their lap. There are so many carefully balanced elements that go into even making fleeting fame that can be built on that it's a miracle it happens to anyone at all, and here, for the best part of an hour and a half, Lawrence plaintively asks, why did it not happen to me? He had everything to craft a cult success that could have translated to at least a one hit wonder whose royalties could have kept his head above water, but there was something so uncompromising about his approach that you tend to think, ah, I see why.
For a start, Lawrence's music was very retro, very backward-looking, which meant his obsessions with the childhood he had in the nineteen-seventies do not make for lasting classics as they're too tied to the past. When Felt split up, he formed Denim, again they had some very good tunes and earned some airplay, but the units stubbornly refused to shift once more, and in the spirit of diminishing returns his next band Go Kart Mozart were even less of a proposition, which is where we find him performing in small clubs with the occasional supporting gig for bigger acts like Saint Etienne. Even this exposure does him little help (it becomes a running joke how many drummers he runs through while trying to record another album), as all the while the state of his mental health keeps him in the benefits system.
Director Paul Kelly shot this on flat-looking digital video, which gives it a monotonous look, and a downbeat tone. Lawrence is not exactly consumed with bitterness, but you can tell this failure is eating away at him, and this disappointment that life did not go the way he always dreamt of adds a layer of poignancy it might not otherwise have conjured. And yet, he is a prickly character, and if he did not have his music, you wonder if Kelly would have made a film about a celebrity who never quite was. He's not argumentative in the scenes we see of him, but you could perceive he could be if things were not going his way, and his endless philosophising may serve up insights in many instances, but sometimes they're just rambles. All these years after the fact, where Lawrence's fame has still eluded him (this film was barely released at the time), you wonder that for some people it’s just never meant to be, and the fact you could have envisaged him as a Britpop star (where nostalgia was part of the appeal) contributes to a pall of sadness.
[The BFI release this on Blu-ray with the following special features:
Presented in High Definition
Feature-length audio commentary with director Paul Kelly
Lawrence of Belgravia Q&A (2011, 7 mins): filmmaker Paul Kelly and his documentary subject Lawrence discuss their collaboration at the 55th London Film Festival Introduction by Paul Kelly (2011, 2 mins)
Alternative title sequence (2011, 1 min)
Deleted scenes (2011, 5 mins): French Lesson and Building Site
Poetry readings (2 mins): Cat Meat on Slum Street (2009) and The Tortoise (2011)
***First pressing only*** Illustrated booklet with new writing by Siân Pattenden, Michael Hayden and Tim Murray, poetry by Lawrence and song lyrics, notes on the special features and credits]