One of Svengali’s running jokes is that protagonist Dixie – a postman from rural Wales who ups-sticks for London hoping to nurture a distinctly unsympathetic indie band to fame and fortune – is still trying to catch label attention with cassette demos. In a world that’s long since upgraded its medium of choice (or abandoned it altogether), it marks Dixie out as a little lost and at odds with the profession to which he aspires. But while this example is deliberately played for laughs, the film itself suffers from a similar datedness, its industry caricatures and underdog narrative ripe with clichés.
Yet despite being only intermittently amusing and rarely incisive, Svengali possesses
a handful of trump cards. The chemistry between Dixie (played by writer
Jonny Owen, on whose web series the film is based) and girlfriend Shell
(Vicky McClure) is sweetly believable, while a pompously absurd cameo
from Matt Berry is doubly welcome amid a host of supporting roles that
are, variously: phoned-in (Martin Freeman’s record shop manager),
sycophantic (“the legend” Alan McGee, playing a sort of
sweary-godmother) or, in the case of Katy Brand’s stereotyped landlord,
thoroughly unpleasant. More middle-of-the-road than top-of-the-pops
then, but kept the right side of entertaining throughout.