Good Vibrations

Part rockumentary, part biopic, this Northern Irish movie about a Northern Irish legend is defined by a barnstorming central performance

'Based on the true stories of Terri Hooley' is the irony-sodden opening legend of the most hotly anticipated film in these parts since the Iris Robinson tapes went viral. And it prompts a big cheer at the Northern Irish premiere screening of Good Vibrations at the Ulster Hall.

Good Vibrations is the visual document that proves to the world that 'Terri Hooley was here'. But which Terri Hooley? Years in the making, the carefully self-cultivated Hooley legend is reduced, distilled, refined and committed to celluloid in this part biopic, part rockumentary that treads that fine movieland line between fact and fiction, perfectly mirroring the man himself.

Anybody who has heard Hooley – the one-eyed founder of the Good Vibrations record label and the man who released The Undertones' generation-defining track, 'Teenage Kicks' – hold forth about Hendrix or Lennon over a brandy and coke will know that recollection and revision is all part of the performance.

Good Vibrations explores the man, the myth and the streets where that wayward narrative was forged, in a conflicted Belfast in the 1970s and 80s.

Hooley is the archetypal crazed visionary. Klaus Kinski might have played him in a parallel universe. As it is, Northern Irish actor Richard Dormer fits the bill here. And he's not the only Northern Irish name on the credits. Good Vibrations is truly a homegrown product.

The film was directed by husband and wife team, Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Baros D'Sa, written by Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry and scored by David Holmes. It was shot in and around Belfast by a Northern Irish crew, even legal advice was provided by Northern Irish lawyers on the more litigious aspects of Hooley's autobiography, also entitled Good Vibrations, from which the movie draws its remarkable substance.

Good Vibrations is also remarkable both in terms of quality and in its freewheeling take on the truth. We've come a long way since the crazy, hazy, beigey days of 1970s Belfast and in his own small but significant way, the subject of this film contributed to that postive shift forward.

But it is back to those days we go to a punky soundtrack. The film is well structured, giving us a potted history of the period, from our hero's first encounter with the first Mrs Hooley, to Hooley setting up his infamous record store, discovering punk almost by accident, and finally facing the closure of his record shop for the first time.

Richard Dormer as Hooley is simply astounding. He steals the show from a cast of notables, and right from under the CGI fright wig of Adrian Dunbar (some kind of in-joke, surely?) Dormer looks and sounds just like a youngish Hooley. His mad eyes, gentle lisp and infectious enthusiasm for the music carry the film along at an impressive pace.

The film is also flavoured with generous stock footage of the 'Troubles'. They're the unavoidable elephant in the room throughout most of the film, and when Hooley finally takes on the loyalists and republicans – with a 'There's to be no trying to kill me!' – it raises chuckles from all quarters.

Lesser characters are played by a roll call of local faces, and it's fun trying to spot the cameos, from the likes of Oh Yeah Music Centre CEO Stuart Baillie and BBC presenter, Joe Lindsay. Curiously, Dylan Moran plays the manager of the now closed Harp Bar, but his Belfast accent gets mugged just outside south Dublin and struggles to recover its vowels.

The rise and fall of the Good Vibrations label is, of course, the story of the rise and fall of the likes of Rudi and The Outcasts, punk bands that put Belfast on the subversive musical may. Their memory may now be as yellowing and faded as an old photo of the Harp Bar, but this movie shows just how youth from all sides came together under the banner of punk amidst the grey horror of a city at war with itself.

Real life in the shape of the taxman, babies, bills and debt barely dent the on screen Hooley's blind optimism, and as his one man, one-eyed empire collapses under the weight of recession in the 1980s, a great big fund raiser at the Ulster Hall is planned.

Appropriately enough the film ends in a stroke of quixotic, heroic failure. Hooley loses money on the sold out Ulster Hall fundraiser by putting almost everybody on the guest list. And that, ultimately, is the story of Good Vibrations itself, an ad hoc outfit of friends and misfits where the bottom line rarely came up in conversation.

'I just did it,' says Hooley to his wife towards the end of the movie. 'And you know what, I haven't done too badly.'

Good Vibrations will be broadcast on BBC Two on Saturday, March 7 at 10.30pm.