Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), a Manchester TV personality, was among the 42 people in the city's Lesser Free Trade Hall for a June 4, 1976, performance of the already notorious Sex Pistols. It was an electrifying experience for the prescient Wilson, who featured the band on his weekly program and soon was presenting other bands at a local club. Not long after, Wilson and his friend Alan Erasmus (Lennie James) and band manager Rob Gretton (Paddy Considine) formed Factory Records, a collective enterprise, and later the Hacienda nightclub. Between 1976 and 1992, when the Hacienda finally closed, Wilson et al would transform rock music and put Manchester on the pop culture map. In "24 Hour Party People," a boldly innovative account of Wilson and Manchester rock, we see Wilson progress from the callow to the glib, but he is never unlikable. Coogan's rendering of Wilson on a larger-than-life scale is endearing and quixotic. Coogan invests Wilson with a capacity for self-awareness, even at his most foolish. Among those 42 people in the audience for the Sex Pistols' Manchester performance were the Stiff Kittens, soon to become Factory Records' first stars as Joy Division, fronted by Ian Curtis (Sean Harris), a singer-composer of such unrelieved intensity that he hung himself in 1980. Resigned to the conventional wisdom that no group can survive the loss of its lead singer, Wilson is blown away by Joy Division's rebirth as New Order. In 1982, Wilson opened the huge Hacienda, slow to catch on but finally as popular as Studio 54. It was there that Wilson discovered Happy Mondays and signed them up to record with gifted, eccentric, hard-living Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis) at the controls. The Happy Mondays' Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham), an epic-scale drug abuser and all-around rowdy, would contribute mightily to Factory Records' downfall. The Hacienda would close in 1992, undermined by patrons who favored ecstasy over profitable booze. Harris, Serkis and Cunningham are among at least a dozen key players lending staunch, colorful support. In itself, "24 Hour Party People" is amazing, rich in authentic period atmosphere and detail, an ever-changing cyclorama of a movie that contains and frames Wilson, who never is allowed to overwhelm it.
Steve Coogan, Andy Serkis, Paddy Considine