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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

JOE Meek’s story is not unlike countless other rags-to-riches, triumph-against-the-odds music biopics… it’s just a little more darker and a little more tragic.

In Nick Moran’s hands, it’s also a fascinating – if flawed – insight into a little-known slice of important British music history.

Meeks was a former RAF radar expert who decided to create his own record label and produce hits from above a bag shop in London’s Holloway Road.

Backed by Major Banks, Meeks developed a gift for recognising young talent and refining music sounds and achieved the unprecedented (at the time) distinction of producing the first British single to top the US charts [in Telstar].

But while Meeks shone brightly, he burned out fast… a victim of his own Jekyll and Hyde personality. For as well as being wildly enthusiastic about music, he was also addicted to amphetamines, was unable to trust anyone, dabbled in the occult and was a homosexual at a time when coming out meant career suicide.

Moran’s film chronicles Meeks’ rise as record producer to his tragic, violent end and is as pumped up, energetic and split personality as its central character.

The first half, in particular, is as rapid, fun and rollercoaster-like as Meeks rise must have been, thriving on the sounds and records that Meeks produced and the energy of its performers.

But the second half of the film is as difficult to watch and draining – dare I say self-destructive – as the producer too, and doesn’t succeed in getting under his skin quite as well. It’s hard to watch.

Throughout, however, Moran draws an incendiary, breathless central performance from the mesmerising Con O’Neill and surrounds him with strong support from the likes of Kevin Spacey (as Major Banks), James Corden, Ralf Little and JJ Feild.

There’s also some great comical moments early on, too, which are all too quickly replaced by the darkness and paranoia that descends.

Telstar is therefore a noble labour of love that thrives when painting its central protagonist in the glory its director thinks Joe Meeks deserves, but which can’t quite match its early thunder.

Meeks’ legacy is effectively realised and honoured, though, and it’s a worthwhile experience for anyone that has an appreciation for British rock-pop history.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 118mins
UK DVD Release: September 28, 2009