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Film

20 years of '24 Hour Party People': A frenetic ode to a frivolous time

@Russellisation

“When given the choice between the legend and the truth, print the legend.” – Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People)

In setting up Factory Records in 1976, Tony Wilson’s impact on the history of Manchester’s music scene was set in stone, even if he didn’t know it at the time. Spawning the success of the likes of Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays, the record label became endemic of the British music industry that thrived throughout the late 20th century, giving birth to an entirely new identity of modern rock. 

Turning 20 years old in 2022, Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People chronicles this journey of the creation of Factory Records, pulsing with electrical energy and a sense of humour that belongs distinctly to the north of England. 

Steve Coogan stars as a faux Alan Partridge to adopt the role of Tony Wilson, featuring alongside a host of English comedy talent including Peter Kay, Paddy Considine, Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis in this sprawling comedy-music slacker movie. With brazen self-confidence, Coogan leads the line with hilarious cocksure fashion, capturing the ‘Mancunian’ personality whilst Winterbottom pinpoints the energy, pace and exuberance of the city itself. 

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Feeling much like a patchwork of concepts and situations, Winterbottom’s comedy reflects that of a rambling sketch show, jumping from moment to moment with a boyish, impatient attitude. Reflective of the frenetic time, place and meteoritic rise of British music, 24 Hour Party People also goes far to illustrate the eclectic creativity of national cinema at the turn of the millennium, where several innovative styles inspired independent cinema. 

“I’m being postmodern, before it’s fashionable,” Coogan’s Wilson speaks to the camera at one point, with his comment carrying a weight of irony in a film that is defined by self-referential humour and the convergence of several filmmaking styles. Compiled as if the product of a makeshift camera crew, Winterbottom entwines moments of archival footage with surreal skits reminiscent of the humour of the collage style of Monty Python

Such creates a hub of cinematic excitement, reflecting the frenetic surge in musical creativity in the 1970s, as well as the rise of vibrant independent cinema in the early 2000s. In shying away from the romantic portrayal of musical icons such as Ian Curtis or Shaun Ryder, focusing instead on Tony Wilson, Winterbottom grounds the film and makes it more about the eccentricities of the British sensibility rather than the magical allure of a few talented artists. 

This comes across thanks to the script work of Frank Cottrell Boyce, creating everyday characters whose approach to existence was larger than life. “It doesn’t matter whether you know who these characters are or not,” producer Andrew Eaton told The Guardian, bringing attention to the innately British story at the film’s core, adding, “as funny, or as sad, as it is, it’s a celebration of a great movement, and the people who made it happen”.

With the landscape of British music changing greatly since the 1970s, Winterbottom’s time capsule back to a time more frivolous, experimental and altogether more frantic era feels organic in its hugely enjoyable delivery. A valuable piece of cultural history, 24 Hour Party People gives a wild and oddly melancholic view into a more frivolous time that feels long forgotten. 

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