Forty years ago today, the film Quadrophenia went into wide release. It’s one of the few times a soundtrack inspired a film. Set in the early 60s, filmed in the late 70s, driven by the music of The Who, staring Sting, costarring some of the most beautifully overly-adorned Vespa scooters. It’s a story of youth, rebellion, growing up, finding your way, meeting your idols, and love. I had friends that lived this life, right down to the scooter. It’s a beautiful film.
Directed by: Franc Roddam
Produced by: Roy Baird, Bill Curbishley
Screenplay by: Dave Humphries, Franc Roddam, Martin Stellman, Pete Townshend
Based on: Quadrophenia by The Who
Starring: Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Toyah, Philip Davis, Mark Wingett, Sting, Ray Winstone
Music by: The Who
Cinematography: Brian Tufano
Edited by: Sean Barton, Mike Taylor
Production company: The Who Films Ltd
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date: 2 November 1979
Running time: 120 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Budget: £2 million
In 1964, Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) is a young London Mod, disillusioned by his parents and a dull job as a post room boy in an advertising firm. Jimmy finds an outlet for his teenage angst by taking amphetamines, partying, riding scooters and brawling with Rockers, accompanied by his Mod friends Dave (Mark Wingett), Chalky (Philip Davis) and Spider (Gary Shail).
One of the rival Rockers is Jimmy’s childhood friend Kevin (Ray Winstone). An attack by hostile Rockers on Spider leads to a retaliation attack on Kevin. Jimmy initially participates in the beating, but when he realizes the victim is Kevin, he berates the other attackers but does not stop them, instead riding away on his scooter revving his engine loudly in frustration.
A planned bank holiday weekend away provides the excuse for the rivalry between Mods and Rockers to escalate, as both groups descend upon the seaside town of Brighton. Jimmy plans to be noticed as a ‘face’, and hints to Steph (Leslie Ash) – a girl on whom he has a crush – to ride with him, but she confirms plans to ride with Pete (Garry Cooper), an older, well-heeled Mod instead. They both agree “…he’s a bit flash”, then Steph asks Jimmy “Eh, [are] you jealous?…”.
In preparation for the weekend, the pals try to buy some recreational drugs from a London gangster, Harry North (John Bindon), but are cheated with fake pills. After vandalizing the drug-seller’s car in retaliation, in desperation, they rob a pharmacy, finding a large quantity of their favorite ‘blues’.
After an early morning group ride from London to the south coast, the friends gather on the seafront, where Jimmy first sees a flamboyant scooter-riding Mod he describes as Ace Face (Sting). Later in a dance hall, Jimmy suggests that he will help Steph, whose escort is now chatting to an attractive American girl, to dance with Ace Face, but on the dance floor ushers her away to dance with himself. Steph leaves Jimmy to dance with Ace Face, whereupon Jimmy plots to gain attention by climbing up on to the balcony-edge and dancing with much applause, to the annoyance of Ace Face. After diving into the audience, Jimmy is ejected by bouncers. Steph’s escort leaves with the American girl, and once again Jimmy tries to get with Steph, this time for the night, but she has arranged accommodation with a female friend.
The lads spend the night sleeping rough, meet up at a cafe on the following morning, then proceed along the promenade, where a series of running battles ensue. As the police close in on the rioters, Jimmy escapes down an alleyway with Steph, and they have casual sex. When the pair emerge, they find themselves in the middle of the melee just as police are detaining rioters. Jimmy is arrested and detained with the volatile Ace Face. When fined £75, Ace Face mocks the magistrate by offering to pay on the spot with a cheque, to the fellow Mods’ amusement.
Back in London, Jimmy becomes severely depressed. His mother throws him out after finding his stash of amphetamine pills. He then quits his job, spends his severance package on more pills, and learns that Steph is now his friend Dave’s girlfriend. After a brief fight with Dave, the following morning his rejection is confirmed by Steph, and his beloved Lambretta scooter was accidentally destroyed in a crash, Jimmy takes a train back to Brighton, becoming more emotionally unstable with increasing pill-taking.
In an attempt to relive the recent excitement, he revisits the scenes of the riots and his encounter with Steph. To his horror, Jimmy discovers that his idol, Ace Face, is an undistinguished bellboy at the Grand Brighton Hotel. Jimmy steals Ace’s scooter and heads out to Beachy Head, riding close to the cliff-edge. Finally, the scooter is seen crashing over the cliff-top, which is where the film begins, with Jimmy walking back against a sunset backdrop.