In the early 1960s, Jim MacLaine (David Essex) tours Britain with his band the Stray Cats, hoping to make it big although playing cover versions of hits by other, more successful people seems to be all the audiences want to hear. He encourages his old friend from his fairground days Mike (Adam Faith) to accompany the band as manager, and soon Mike has them playing bigger venues, and they secure a record contract. However, there are growing tensions and growing success when singer Johnny (Paul Nicholas) is forced out by Mike's canny conniving and Jim takes his place at the head of the band...
This Rock 'n 'Roll, rags to riches drama was written by Ray Connolly as the sequel to the late nineteen-fifties-set That'll Be The Day, tracing Jim MacLaine's path to stardom and eventual downfall in the manner of a rock star which would be a cliché if it was not unfolding in that fashion for a select few talents in real life, and would continue to do so. All the expected elements are present: the arguments between the band members, the groupies, the price of fame, the drug abuse and the growing pretension in the musical styles from the rock star. In fact, so many of the tropes are used that once you've watched the beginning of the movie, you can predict exactly what's going to happen with reasonable accuracy.
But is the hackneyed plotting less to do with lazy writing, and more to do with the pattern that bands got into once the Beatles had exploded onto the scene? It seems that way, although MacLaine never comes across as a serious rival to the Beatles musically: his songs (written and performed by Dave Edmunds, who also appears as one of the Stray Cats) sound like a seventies idea of what sixties pop and rock sounded like, and what few genuine hits of the era there are on the soundtrack show them up. But as far as that success story goes, MacLaine's lifestyle is all too familiar as he is manipulated and squeezed dry of every last drop of musical ability until there really is no more to give.
As the lead character, Essex gets by with his natural star quality, here more reactive than in the first movie as if he is being led by events around him instead of the other way around, although McLaine's irrestistibility and talent have to be taken on trust. You do miss Ringo Starr, but Faith's interpretation of Mike meant the real acting honours go to the ex-sixties crooner as the manager, who is sly and Machiavellian, but the best friend MacLaine has as his bandmates and his girlfriend (Ines Des Longchamps) fall away to be replaced by money men like record executive Larry Hagman who is no less dangerous to Jim, but far less of a friend. As had been the case before, casting real music performers in the film pays off, especially with a returning Keith Moon being himself.
Eventually, in a fit of ego MacLaine creates a soulless rock opera about the "deification of women", a performance of which is beamed around the world's television sets in a nod to the Fab Four's famed All You Need is Love broadcast. After that, he has nowhere to go and retreats to a huge castle in Spain to become a recluse, with his fans wondering if he will make a comeback when we can tell creatively he is a spent force. It's no surprise what happens then. While well crafted overall, Stardust is hard to enjoy due to its deadening, morose tone; there are excellent scenes, such as the uncomfortably realistic near-riot at a concert (Essex was enjoying genuine pop idol status himself) and MacLaine's mother's funeral being overtaken by his screaming fans which results in his wife (Rosalind Ayres) ordering him out of her life and that of his son forever, but it all leaves a bitter taste which of course was the intention all along. Watch for: a sex scene mixed with football commentary twenty years before Trainspotting (though a threesome in this case), and The Magic Roundabout on TV.