Friday 15 October 2010

Mr Nice at the movies

I have written two books featuring Howard Marks. Oxford Rogues includes the life of the famous cannabis smuggler amongst nine other naughty boys from the city. This derives from an early book called Rogue Males: Three men of Oxford which contains potted biogs of Howard and the two Richard Burtons and then spins off into a pot and beer induced fiction. Both are available at the bookshop (

I used Howard’s own biography, Mr Nice, and a number of other books in my research and have heard many rumours of his book becoming a film since then. Now the film is out: I saw it last night.

Amongst the rumours various big names were hitched to the lead part, but it was finally given to Rhys Ifans, a friend of Howard’s from his Super Furry Animals days. It was a good choice, Rhys does look like Howard and has the ambience of the man off to a tee. I did not know of Rhys before, but thought that I recognised him. Later I found that he acted the scary part of Jed in Enduring Love. Scary!

The film starts and ends with Howard addressing an enthusiastic audience in one of his one man-shows. A good touch which shows the man at his most anarchic and in the only role in which I know him personally. He appears at the Oxford Union where the callow students greet him like a world champion heavyweight entering a boxing ring. I like Howard, but he is not a heavyweight and nor is the film. It has an amateur feel to it which is probably deliberate and can be effective. Here it just seemed amateur. During the intro I noted that it was sponsored by the National Lottery: a strange linking of charity, gambling and drug dealing.

I enjoyed Howard’s book, though it does go on a bit. Many of the things that were etched into my memory were cut by the film: particularly scenes from the Far East showing Howard lugging heavy suitcases laden with drug cash around hot sweaty streets and the bizarre outing in the Philipines with nuns and dwarves. I know that you have to cut, but why include such long scenes of lithe, naked female bodies circling a drug-hazed Howard in Oxford (OK, I do know why), and why did the awful McCann have to show his decorated penis to Judy beside the Majorcan swimming pool? I can’t remember that in the book. Maybe I’ve blotted it out?

The film rolled on and I found myself thinking about the pub. Would anywhere be open when Mr Nice rolled to a close? This was not a good sign. Then I began to consider which pub I might go to. A very bad sign. Perhaps I expected too much, after all I do know this stuff in some detail.

Later in the Far from the Madding Crowd I told a drinking companion where I had been. He said that he had read the book and started talking about scenes from South America! There are no scenes from South America in Mr Nice! It flashed through my mind that he was talking about the follow up book Señor Nice. Based on my night at the cinema I don’t think that Señor Nice will ever be made into a film.

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