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Matthew d’Ancona’s Culture: The Bikeriders is an instant classic of the genre

Our editor-at-large’s rundown of the pick of the week’s cinema, theatre and books

Jodie Comer and Austin Butler in The Bikeriders. Photo: Focus Features


General release

Based on Danny Lyon’s classic 1968 photobook of the same name, Jeff Nichols’ sixth feature film is a superb exploration of American masculinity, the Sixties and the competing instincts of freedom and community.

The story is bookended by references to Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) – which inspires Johnny (Tom Hardy), a truck driver, to form a motorcycle club, the Vandals, in Chicago – and Easy Rider (1969), the New Hollywood smash hit that, along with Hunter S Thompson’s Hell’s Angels (1967), drove bike-riding into mainstream culture. 

Further homage is provided by the central role of Kathy (Jodie Comer) whose interviews over the years with Lyon (Mike Faist) give the movie its narrative structure and clearly recall Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco’s voiceovers in Goodfellas.

Completing the trio is Austin Butler as Benny, who channels James Dean for all he is worth. Johnny’s love for him is neither narrowly paternal nor straightforwardly homoerotic; it is more that he wants to be Benny, to experience freedom as he does, and (knowing that he can’t) for him to succeed him as president of the club. When Benny says, “I don’t ask nothing from nobody”, it is not just a throwaway line.

Kathy, meanwhile, wants a husband, kids and a settled life with Benny
(“I used to be respectable”). Comer’s performance is exceptional: at the preview I attended, Nichols played a clip on his phone of the original Kathy talking in her south Chicago drawl, and it is extraordinary how the actor has captured her voice and cadence. 

But this is much more than an exercise in imitation. Comer’s Kathy is an entirely believable (and wryly witty) chronicler of the mayhem and misery that arise from the club’s expansion, its pivot to crime and the influx of damaged Vietnam vets, desperately in search of somewhere to belong. There are terrific cameos from Michael Shannon as Zipco, whose speech on the fate of the “undesirable character” is the moral heart of the movie, and Norman Reedus as Funny Sonny, a wild biker from California who falls in with the Vandals.

Nichols is hardly the first artist to explore the tension in the American Dream between the longing for roots and the outlaw impulse to be completely free: homestead versus highway. But The Bikeriders is an instant classic of the genre.  

PS: If you want to find out more about Lyon and his extraordinary career, check out his recently published memoir, This Is My Life I’m Talking About (Damiani).


The Old Vic, London, until August 10 

It is 13 years since James Corden took the London stage by storm with his bravura comic performance in One Man, Two Guvnors – for eight of which he was a chat show host in the US, best known for his Carpool Karaoke skits with superstar passengers.

Now he returns in Matthew Warchus’s production of Joe Penhall’s The Constituent, a new play that explores the deteriorating relationship between backbench MP Monica (Anna Maxwell Martin, excellent) and Alec (Corden), who installs a security system at her local office. 

Alec, it soon emerges, is in the midst of an ugly divorce, struggles with PTSD as an army veteran of the Afghan conflict, and fizzes with violent menace. Monica becomes both his default therapist and the target of his rage. “You’re a dead person, working for a dead parliament in a dead country!” he bellows. 

Naturally, the horrific murders of Jo Cox in 2016 and David Amess in 2021 loom bleakly over their tense exchanges, and the play does not flinch from the deadly seriousness of its theme. How have we reached the point that MPs routinely face threats of violence? How can they possibly be expected to serve their constituents in such circumstances?

Corden is superb – a cocktail of toxicity and helplessness, seeking a connection but frighteningly impulsive. A sharply contemporary and intelligent drama, well worth your time.


By Rosie Holt
Ebury Press

During lockdown, the actor and comedian Rosie Holt had the inspired idea of splicing her own responses as a satirised Tory MP (who shared her name) into real television interviews and posting them online: the clips went viral and fooled a few people, too.

Now her alter ego has written an account of the last parliament that is both hilarious – “world war two (which was like the pandemic but with guns and no Joe Wicks)”; “I’ve heard if you think too long as a Brexiteer you can end up a Remainer, so you need to limit things like that”; “rules and regulations are what woke TikTokkers do” – and also alarmingly close to the bone. Which is, of course, the essence of great satire. I hope this particular MP does not disappear from the political stage after the general election. Perhaps it is time to defect? 

You can hear the real Rosie Holt talking with Matt Kelly and me on last Friday’s episode of The Two Matts.

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