Worried About the Boy

Eighties nostalgia works its magic on old New Romantic Rachel Cooke.

Did Tony Basgallop intend his script for Worried About the Boy to be quite so funny as it turned out? I'm not sure. Obviously, one can't write a Boy George biopic and not stuff it full of wannabe Dorothy Parker wit. So there were some, er, choice one-liners. In a scene outside the Blitz club, Steve Strange (Marc Warren) informed George (Douglas Booth) that indoors it was a busy night. "That's because they've all come to look at me, you Welsh fuck!" said George, a pithy description of the Visage singer which, I'm afraid, just about sums him up. But generally the theme was: poor George, so lonely, so misunderstood, so sorely used by all those naughty straight boys who liked to pretend he was a girl. To ramp up the weepiness, when George and the Theatre of Hate singer Kirk Brandon (Richard Madden) finally got it together, they did so to Hazel O'Connor singing "Will You". Man, that song. It makes me want to chug vodka like no other - though I accept that this is a function of my great age rather than of the song's emotional brilliance.

Anyway, intentional or not, the film was funny, which rather undermined the seriousness with which we were clearly supposed to regard George's contribution to pop culture (it was an indulgent 90 minutes long, yet it covered, in the main, only the pre-fame squat years). When, for instance, George was dumped by Brandon, he screamed: "I made fucking onion rings for you!" When he decided he wanted to be famous, Marilyn (Freddie
Fox) told him that he should try and be more like Shakin' Stevens. "I'd give anything to be Shaky!" (s)he said. And when - cut to 1986 - Steve Strange and Boy George were lying in a heroin-induced stupor, both of them aware that their big moment had already passed, Strange announced: "They're selling pirate T-shirts in Topshop . . . You either made it on to the Live Aid bill, or you picked up your P45." Hee. I bet Howard Jones and Paul Young, both of whom played Live Aid, were rolling in the aisles. (But perhaps I'm being unfair. According to Wikipedia, Jones's song "Like to Get to Know You Well" remained in the top 40 for 12 years in the British Virgin Islands.)

At other times, it was the costume department that had me honking. When David Bowie arrived unexpectedly at Blitz, George was dressed - oh dear - like an extra in the Huddersfield Players' production of The Mikado. And when, later, Strange fired him as the Blitz
cloakroom attendant - it really was handbags at dawn - he was wearing a pointy silver hat and purple eyeshadow. He looked like a narwhal that had accidentally collided with a No 17 make-up counter: ludicrous and embarrassing. I began to see why, down the years, various men have considered my fondness for New Romanticism to be so very silly. And this is a worry. Maybe they're right. Maybe "To Cut a Long Story Short" really is a rubbish song.

As I watched, various thoughts ran through my brain. How much more helpfully dramatic are red telephone boxes than mobile phones,
it occurred to me, as George had sex in one; and how strange it is that while I know exactly
who Rusty Egan, Kirk Brandon and Philip Sallon are, their names are now so forgotten that the BBC felt moved to flash them on screen, primary-school-style, when they appeared (even with this help, most people will still have felt the need to Google)? In other words, I could feel nostalgia working its dubious magic on me - though it was helped on its way by Booth's performance as George. A Burberry model, Booth is beautiful enough without make-up, but in panstick and kohl he tore at the heart in a way that the real George never did.

I'm not sure why, exactly, the BBC felt the need to make this film, part of its 1980s series; it dished up nothing new and, obsessed with George's affairs with Brandon and Culture Club's drummer, Jon Moss (Mathew Horne), it seemed prurient. On the other hand, like New Romanticism itself, it was good while it lasted. As they still say of the nightclubs in ancient Rome: O tempora! O mores!

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 May 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Greece now, Britain next