TV Review: Urban Myths – David Bowie And Marc Bolan, Sky Arts

Of all the Urban Myths short films in this new series it was this one, homing in on an early meeting between David Bowie and Marc Bolan, that I was most anxious about. It is also the one that stirred up the most controversy on social media too. OK, Jack Whitehall as Marc Bolan isn't in the same WTF ballpark as Joseph Fiennes playing Michael Jackson but it was pretty unexpected casting. 

And yet somehow it actually works. The scene is the mid-1960s. Bowie - then plain David Jones – and Bolan, aka Mark Feld, are in the office of their long-suffering manager Les Conn (Adrian Edmondson). Neither are shifting many records so Conn suggests they earn their keep by decorating his office. He leaves them a few tins of paint to get on with the job.

What we get next in this evocative, touching film directed by Jim O'Hanlon, is an intriguing dance between the two characters as they cautiously eye each other up with suspicion, play status games and ultimately bond. Bowie is the Bromley suburbanite but not as naive as he appears and is maybe more ambitious. Bolan is more streetwise and superior, the more outwardly confident mod.

In some ways they are very different, but they also have a lot in common. Slowly but surely they strike up a rapport over their love of the blues and even have a funny homerotic fight. A bit like Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in Women in Love but with their clothes on. By the end we can kind of see how their lives are going to intertwine and pan out as they form a lasting friendship. 

Jack Whitehall is good as Bolan, playing it both tough and camp, but it is Luke Treadaway that shines brightest as Bowie, who is, inevitably, going to be the more fascinating figure because we know what he went on to achieve. He isn't a lookalike, but every now and again you get a sense of Bowie the artistic artful dodger who was so brilliant at stealing/absorbing ideas. And there's a nice in-joke in the script by Freddy Syborn (who works regularly with Whitehall) where a splash of paint forms an embryonic Ziggy flash on Jones' face. 

As the captions at the end underline, both went on to great things and remained friends until Bolan's early death. They never did finish the decorating. 

Urban Myths – David Bowie And Marc Bolan, Thursday, May 10, 9pm, Sky Arts. Full series available to Sky Subscribers now.


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