The mid-seventies success of the Ken Russell directed rock opera Tommy (based on the Who album of the same name) prompted The Who films to bring their classic tale of teen angst, Quadrophenia, to the big screen.
Set in 1964 at the peak of the first Mod subculture, Quadrophenia is the coming-of-age story of young London Mod Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels), a disillusioned, confused and angry young man.
During the day, Jimmy works as a post-room runner at a large corporate firm in the City, however at night and on the weekends, Jimmy is a Mod. He hangs out with his friends Dave (Mark Wingett), Chalky (Philip Davis) and Spider (Gary Shail), enjoying an amphetamine fuelled alternate lifestyle of drinking, partying and posing.
Influenced by peer pressure, and desperate to ‘belong’ to the ‘scene’ at all costs, Jimmy alienates his childhood friend Kev (Ray Winstone), who is now a Rocker. In a classic example of Jimmy’s mindset, when asked by Kev why he is a Mod, he answers: “Look, I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else. That’s why I’m a Mod, see? I mean, you gotta be somebody, ain’t ya?”
Adding to his confusion, Jimmy has a crush on local girl Steph (Leslie Ash), and feels increasingly detached from his parents who ‘don’t understand him.’ To make matters worse, in a retaliatory attack, Jimmy and his friends beat up Kev’ simply because he is a rocker albeit not the one responsible for injuring their friend. This act of betrayal only adds to Jimmy’s growing drug-induced confusion.
A chance to get away from it all comes when the Mods converge on the coastal town of Brighton over a bank holiday weekend. In some of the film’s most iconic scenes we meet the hordes of Mods led by the self-styled ‘Ace Face’ (Sting in his film debut), and witness a running battle between rival gangs of Mods and Rockers, during which Jimmy escapes down an alleyway with Steph where he finally has the girl of his dreams, only to emerge and be arrested.
At the moment he belongs and appears to have everything he wanted, everything is taken away; Jimmy’s life continues to fall apart, his identity crisis escalates, alienating him from everything he knows…
Written and directed by Franc Roddam with an obvious love for the subject matter. Jimmy is real; he’s likeable, flawed, annoying and complex, not a one-dimensional movie teenager like so many other coming of age stories.
The cast are all good, delivering natural performances, many in their debut roles, headed by Phil Daniels who is exceptional as Jimmy in the most iconic and most important performance of his underrated career.
I love this film; the energy, performances and depiction of Mod subculture, as it says on the poster: “It’s a way of life”. The film is gritty, humorous, violent and cool, it’s also quintessentially British.
SPOILER ALERT: I also love the ambiguous and symbolic conclusion, symbolizing either Jimmy’s death (though he is not shown falling) or the death of his belief in the Mod culture and his final decision to live without it. It still remains a talking point 30 years later.
Though not a major box-office hit, Quadrophenia quickly went onto receive a cult-following. An apparently accurate sample of the times, the films celebration of the Mod movement partly inspired the Mod revival in the UK in the late 1970s and early 80’s. Many of the Mod revival bands were influenced by the energy of British punk rock, new wave and of course, the music of The Who. The revival was led by The Jam (whose front man Paul Weller is nicknamed The Modfather), and included bands such as Secret Affair, Purple Hearts and The Chords.
The Who are everywhere throughout the film, a poster on Jimmy’s wall, performing Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere on TV and the My Generation single played at a party.
It’s interesting to note that John Lydon screen tested for the role of Jimmy, it would have been a very different film with him, I can see him inhabiting Jimmy with angst and anger, not so much anything else.
“We are the Mods, We are the Mods, We are, We are, We are the Mods…”
Quality: 5 out of 5 stars
Any Good: 5 out of 5 stars