Review: Creation Stories Tells the Riotous, Indulgent Life Story of Scottish Music Industry Man Alan McGee

As only Danny Boyle (credited here as an executive producer) and Irvine Welsh (who co-wrote the screenplay with Dean Cavanagh) can, Creation Stories tells the riotous, overly indulgent life story of Alan McGee, a young Scottish lad who grew up in poverty but eventually birthed Creation Records when he was in his early 20s. That label in turn launched some of the biggest bands of the 1990s and beyond. It’s not a straight-forward rags-to-riches story; there were as many ups as there were downs. But in the end, McGee (Ewen Bremner, Trainspotting) lived the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll fantasy he’d always imagined and paid a steep price for the privilege.

Directed by actor-turned-director Nick Moran (who makes a brief appearance as Sex Pistols founder Malcolm McLaren) and based on McGee’s autobiography: Creation Stories: Riots Raves & Running, Creation Stories begins as the humble story of an outcast kid (young Alan is played by Leo Flanagan) who loved music and even tried to make a go at being in a band. And while that side of the music business didn’t work out for him, he did learn a thing or two about the industry and chose instead to be a manager. The scenes where Alan is belittled by his deadbeat father (Richard Jobson) are heartbreaking, but they also fueled the young man to succeed at the very thing his father never believed he could, even while his mother secretly supported and encouraged him.

The framing device for the film is an older McGee telling an American journalist (Suki Waterhouse) his life story for a magazine article while McGee is visiting LA on business—a trip that would be fateful for many reasons. All this means that a great deal of Creations Stories is told in flashbacks, including meetings with the different bands that the label made famous, including The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, and, of course, Oasis.

It’s the meeting and early days of Oasis that gets the most screen-time, with Jason Flemyng playing a club promotor who begrudgingly allows the Manchester-based band to perform for 20 minutes on a slow night. McGee just happens to be in town and meets the Gallagher brothers (Leo Harvey-Elledge as Liam, James McClelland as Noel). It’s a perfectly staged moment with McGee ready to sign the band on the spot and Noel insisting he listen to their demo tape first. Around this time, McGee became involved in politics, mostly by specifically recruiting his bands (including Oasis) to help get Tony Blair elected prime minister (McGee also palled around with Bill Clinton at times). That is, until Blair brought known deviants into his sphere of influence, making McGee happily fall out of favor.

At least according to the film, McGee’s health failed him on the LA trip after an all-night bender with a shady movie producer (Jason Isaacs), and he ended up in the hospital, leading to a long detox and recovery. The back third of the movie is a bit more serious, as his life loses a great deal of its luster and the real world begins shining through for the first time since childhood. I’d never considered Bremner as a serious actor before this movie, but he convincingly adds depth, humor, and desperation to McGee, making him about as well-rounded a record-label character as you’ll likely find in a movie about the rock business. He and the film surprised me, both in terms of making order out of chaos, and the fully rounded nature of its central figure.

The actors’ Scottish accents might feel impenetrable at times, but aside from that, the film handles and indulges every corner of McGee’s very crowded life (we haven’t even mentioned his romantic entanglements, or the strange turn his friendship with the journalist takes years after their interview). Except for a sequence involving a strange mini-breakdown on a talk show, most of the film feels fundamentally honest and in no way eager to gloss over the lowest points of his life. His is a journey I knew nothing about going in, and I came out impressed with his true-life story and the way this film portrays these events.

The film is now streaming on AMC+ and is also available via VOD.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

One comment

  1. I really enjoyed the review of the film Creation Stories. Sorry I’m not making a donation, but consider the kudos another firm of donation.
    I caught this film on one of the movie channels and I had no idea who the main character was. But I’ve seen enough music films to pick it up as I went along. I live in Montreal, so it’s a world away, the British music scene. Except for the big boys we all know and love.
    I can relate to our man in the music biz who’s spinning out of control. He rarely is seen without a drink in his hand. I figured this was gonna catch up with him.
    The film was a bit frenetic at times, but with your review in mind, I’m happy to recommend this film to some of my more hip Boomer friends who are still alive.
    Great job on the review,
    ✌️Ian Howarth

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