Serkis “does disability” in new Dury biopic

Serkis as Dury, in 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll'
Slightly off-topic, but related to the day job, so I hope you’ll indulge me.

Having worked within disability organisations since 2002, mostly doing media relations and PR with disabled people, I am right behind movements such as Don’t Play Me Pay Me, and broadly enjoyed the recent Channel 4 series Cast Offs, featuring an all-disabled cast (disclaimer: I am not disabled so what the hell do I know, right?). But, I have to say I’m really interested to see upcoming Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.

Actor, musician and performer Mat Fraser who is disabled from his mother’s use of the morning-sickness drug thalidomide, has suggested in the past that “spaccing-up is the blacking-up of the 21st century” (‘spac’ in this instance being a crude reclamation of the now derogatory term ‘spastic’) . So I wonder what he thinks of non-disabled but promising-looking Andy Serkis depicting Mr “Spasticus Autisticus” himself.

Dury – punk / new wave legend – became disabled at seven after contracting polio. You’ll remember the eponymous “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”, “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” and – if you’re a child of 1980’s TV – for the theme from The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, “I’m Profoundly in Love with Pandora”.

A disproportionate amount of movies with disabled protagonists lean awkwardly towards using disability as a metaphor for “triumphing over tragedy” (and often culminate in the ritual death of that ‘hero’ as the ‘battle’ is bitter-sweet won, but ultimately lost. Inside I’m Dancing, anyone?). But I really hope that S&D&R&R, much like music biogs before it such as 24 Hour Party PeopleControl, and even Walk the Line, depicts Dury as foremost a flawed but fantastic musician.

I think Andy Serkis is a much underrated actor. I remember watching him way back in 1989 in an ITV kids drama about (of all things) cycle couriers, called ‘Street Wise’. Will Serkis do a Day-Lewis – criticised by some disabled people for committing the ultimate ‘spaccing-up’ to celluloid that cinema has ever seen? Clearly unlikely, particularly as Dury’s story is not as Oscar-aimed and ‘worthy’ as My Left Foot, the story of Christy Brown as depicted by Daniel Day-Lewis in the very same year Serkis was cycling around London in Lycra.

The debate about whether non-disabled actors should (ever) play disabled characters continues. I am split on the issue. But it’s great to Serkis stretching his acting muscles beyond doing silly voices for a wayward (and erm arguably disabled) hobbit.

One thought on “Serkis “does disability” in new Dury biopic

  1. Rob I always fall on the side of only pwds playing pwds. However if a non-pwd is in fact playing disabled due to a strong resemblance or connection to a real pwd then please cast other roles with real performers-with-disabilities in the production.

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