Not to be confused with Netflix’s Beats that also released this year, Brian Welsh’s new film is a celebration of 1990s rave culture, marked by the end of an era amid the passing of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act and the imminent rise of Tony Blair’s New Labour.
What once seemed to the working class of Britain to be a promising future has since been unmasked as nothing but rebranded Thatcherism, making our characters’ plight to ‘fight against the system’ ironically accurate and timely, and ensuring the film’s narrative more relevance than perhaps anybody thought at the time. Beats’ themes are about far more than the music.
Adapted from a one-man stage show by Kieran Hurley, Welsh has expanded the story to show how this impacted the entire culture, not just the two friends at the heart of it. He’s said ‘there was something universal about the story, but also quite culturally specific, and also very specific to the place that I grew up in’, adding that he wanted the film ‘to be a celebration of a particular moment and of an energy behind that scene.’
The film is effective because, above all else, it is a story about friendship. Johnno and Spanner couldn’t be more different, and Johnno’s imminent move away is only going to drift them further apart, but they are bonded simply by a shared love of music. It brings them together, and the film details the risks they’ll go through just to have that one last incredible rave. Their friendship beautifully demonstrates the bond that ties this entire culture together; the bond that will ensure rave culture may evolve, but will never truly die.
Much like its characters, the film relies on its soundtrack to push it along and bring it to life. Sadly, the music is nowhere near as impactful as Walsh clearly thinks. Every character in the film’s much-hyped rave is on some kind of pill, and one can’t help but feel the beats lose a lot of their effect when sitting sober on an average morning. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white with Trainspotting-esque grit, the film is paying tribute to an era that, honestly, plays out to music that is very much of its time.
The film unquestionably has some unnecessary plot contrivances, too, and it’s not making the grand statement on the arts it thinks it is, but it overcomes its flaws with a story that will resonate with all. This is a film about both endings and beginnings; growing up and moving on. It’s a story about those important people in our youth whom we thought we’d know forever, but now politely nod to when we pass them in the street. Dramatic, funny and moving, Beats is a film based in one specific moment, telling a story that will touch many more.
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