My music habits at the time might have become an influential factor in my decision to seek out watching 24 Hour Party People as quickly as I did. I was only getting myself into the music of Joy Division and quickly they became one of my favourite bands, and I’ve already familiarized myself with Sex Pistols – but my knowledge of the scene was fairly limited at best. I then stumbled across 24 Hour Party People hoping to gain further knowledge of what it was like during said era and I immediately thought to myself after finishing it that it was something I had to watch once again. It was perhaps a result of a mood coming by from the music I was listening to at the time, but if Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson wasn’t one of the most charming roles I’ve seen him play, then I’d only imagine something all the more wonderful if I watch him more because I’ve already been a big fan of everything I’ve seen him do together with director Michael Winterbottom and with 24 Hour Party People, what they created is probably their best work yet.
Set between the years of 1976 and 1992, 24 Hour Party People tells the story of the career of Granada Television reporter and eventual Factory Records head Tony Wilson. Oftentimes fictionalized, but never does it lie about the world it lives within as it captures an era of Britain’s craziness as Wilson carries his own presence as he guides the audiences through defining points of the Madchester scene. Whether or not the events depicted in 24 Hour Party People are real or not, the fact that Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan have successfully recreated it on every turn possible by covering many of the most famous Factory label artists going from Joy Division to New Order, The Durutti Column, and Happy Mondays – evoking a sense of nostalgia for those who have lived through the scene while working perfectly as a guide to viewers who are relatively new to the experience.
The knowledge I had of the Madchester scene prior to watching 24 Hour Party People had gone as far as The Smiths, Joy Division, Happy Mondays, Blur, and New Order primarily because I’ve either actively listened to or can name some of their songs off the top of my head, but I always had it in me for Joy Division (can’t say much for New Order as I’ve not listened to fairly much from them). Watching 24 Hour Party People gave me the feeling that I was a part of the scene in part because of the charisma that Steve Coogan was presenting as he was playing Tony Wilson, for through the use of fourth wall breaks it feels like Michael Winterbottom has in some way created a pseudo-documentary that captures the environment as created by the scene, even going as far as presenting his own recreations of some of the peak moments of the era ranging from Joy Division’s shift to New Order after the death of leading singer Ian Curtis and somehow making them feel authentic.
It also helps that Steve Coogan’s personality is as delightful as he has always been but whenever he works with Michael Winterbottom, he finds himself at his very best. In his first of many collaborations with Winterbottom, he hasn’t been any more pleasing to watch as he finds himself carrying the persona of a figure like Tony Wilson. It isn’t merely from the fact that Coogan feels like Wilson but the role allows for Coogan to be himself as an entire atmosphere feels built around how big a part he was in the music scene, being the manager of Factory Records as well as a reporter for Granada Television. Coogan doesn’t merely play Wilson as a central figure amidst the Madchester movement but rather instead he plays Wilson akin to a tour guide for people unfamiliar with the environment. But at the same time there’s a case being made with how Coogan plays Wilson as he finds himself a man in charge of so much as the music fills the air, an arrogance that leads him to a downward spiral.
A film about the Madchester scene could easily have for a conventional biopic about its most influential figures but Winterbottom avoids letting 24 Hour Party People sink itself down to that degree. Rather instead, what Winterbottom presents in the guise of a dramatized biopic about the life of Tony Wilson is a cleverly self-aware deconstruction of what more the movie could have fallen into, making for a more fun experience. The script that Winterbottom and Coogan work with in this scenario is one that is just upfront about the fact that it knows it is merely making up as a means of creating a cohesive flow, but the way to which it blends together with what’s real only enhances the experience all the more. It never goes to a degree where it heads off too much for its own good, but under Winterbottom’s eye the right dose of self-awareness and drama makes for a subversive take on the biopic, and one of the very finest of its own kind.
I wasn’t even sure what to expect out of 24 Hour Party People because I had rather little knowledge of the scene in spite of my familiarity and affinity for certain bands that have helped in defining the era, even with the involvement of Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan setting up promise. This movie easily could have been something incredibly basic because of the subject matter it carries and the sort of film it is, but out of the blue comes something so much more energetic and free – just as I can imagine the environment of the Madchester scene was like. After watching 24 Hour Party People for my first time I felt in the mood to play another Joy Division track, if I already hadn’t loved their music enough before watching this treat. Appreciation for the music isn’t vital for enjoyment within 24 Hour Party People, just the madness of the cultural scene and the environment it forms is enough to have myself caught in with the energy Winterbottom presents.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Pathé.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Produced by Andrew Eaton
Starring Steve Coogan, Paddy Considine, Danny Cunningham, Sean Harris, Shirley Henderson, Lennie James, Andy Serkis, John Simm
Release Year: 2002
Running Time: 117 minutes