Quadrophenia (1979) Film Review

Introduction to Quadrophenia (1979)

This is our movie review of Quadrophenia (1979, Franc Roddam), start you’re scooters!

People try to put us down, just because we get around, Pete Townshend’s lyric to 1965 Who hit My Generation is the rousing antithesis of adolescent angst. The statements meaning can be traced through The Who’s discography, leading to the 1973 concept album Quadrophenia (and subsequent film of 1979) which examine the full scope of adolescent life. 

Adopting a similar narrative framework to the album that inspired it, Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia (1979) focusses on the character of Jimmy (played by Phil Daniels) and his search for meaning against the backdrop of the Mod and Rocker’s. Intended as a reflection of the 4 band members (which then comprised The Who)personalities, the narrative arc of the film conveying a coming of age story for the protagonist, is a much stronger through line. Meaning that future generations are able to identify with the film’s subtext, having not grown up during the 1960’s.

Cinematography of Quadrophenia (1979)

The cinematography and general mise en scene for the film are outstanding. Adopting an approach that relies heavily on the natural light of a setting and a minimal soundtrack, which combined with the at times raw acting of its young cast; convey a strong sense of authenticity and tragedy to the tone of the film. As well as alluding to a perceived realism with longshots of an ashen sky coupled with the decay of Victorian seaside architecture. It is in the moments where protagonist Jimmy is afforded his agency, that the visual gloom shifts. For example, at the film’s beginning, accompanied by the rising sun, Jimmy turns his back on the cliff edge (and subsequently the Mod movement we learn at the films conclusion) to which the sun soaked sky is the backdrop.

Cast and Characters

For a film that boasts such young cast the talent on display is frighteningly good. Although a majority of the cast would have also recently worked together on an equally angst ridden depiction of troubled youth in Scum (1979, Alan Clarke), the chemistry and performances are stellar from the start. One contributing factor to this is the dialogue. No longer inhibited by the Hays Code (regulations against what could be seen or heard on film that lasted until 1968) the air is blue for a majority of the 115 minute runtime. However, its effect is not to shock nor present a faux credibility (alas Skins) but to align itself with the universal language of youth. Although the colloquialisms of the time are present, its performance from the cast mean it is easily translatable to any age group as the themes and situations of the film are universal.

Film Criticisms

One minor point of contention is the pace, particularly for new viewers. At times on initial viewing, the first act can be glacial. However, it’s slow burner approach to world building mean that the film is more rewarding on subsequent rewatches. Total immersion in the setting and situations the film conjures up, meaning the film flies by.    

Review Conclusion

In conclusion, Quadrophenia is a classic piece of British filmmaking. A fantastic storyline held together by sterling cinematography and acting that packs a punch 45 years later.