Super Star

Five years after David Bowie’s death, Stardust arrives. It’s less a biopic than it is a snapshot moment of the musician’s life, a time when he was on the cusp of fame. The year is 1971 and Bowie (played by Beast’s Johnny Flynn) has enjoyed success with ‘Space Oddity’ but he’s yet to achieve the recognition of his peer, Marc Bolen, the lead singer of T.rex. The plan is to tour America, though any sense that this will be a red-carpet affair is swiftly extinguished when he arrives without a visa and is met by Mercury Records rep Ron Oberman (the excellent Marc Maron).

With Bowie promoting his album The Man Who Sold The World – albeit awkwardly, he’s not quite nailed the art of meeting and greeting with the press yet – he has yet to find his Ziggy Stardust persona that would finally turn all eyes towards him. Ferried around by Oberman, theirs is an Odd Couple dynamic – and a curiously affecting one. Oberman believes in Bowie, who comes across as awkward, reluctant, unsure of himself. And with good reason: at one point he’s playing a gig to vacuum cleaner salesmen.

Directed by Gabriel Range, who co-scripts with Christopher Bell, Stardust has no licensed Bowie music in it, which is less of an issue that it sounds, given this is still at a very embryonic stage of his career. What it does intriguingly is get inside Bowie’s head. Back home, he’s left behind pregant wife, Angie (Jena Malone). He’s also haunted by thoughts of his older brother Terry (Derek Moran), who has been institutionalized with mental health issues – a trait that runs through Bowie’s family and something that perturbs him deeply.

Flynn is first-rate as Bowie in that he doesn’t try and impersonate him – he simply inhabits the role of an artist who has yet to find his place in the world. If the film isn’t the all-singing, all-dancing Bowie bio fans might think they want, it smartly weaves in real-life events – like his documented visit to Andy Warhol’s Factory – into an unusual portrait of a unique artist. It doesn’t quite match a film like John Lennon movie Nowhere Boy, but Range and his cast can rest assured they’ve done right by Bowie.

Stardust is available on demand from 15 January. For more details, click here.

James Mottram