2010 was The X Factor’s peak. Not only did it see the show’s highest average weekly viewing figures, raking in a peak of 19.1 million viewers for its final, but it also involved a list of names that have become embedded in British TV history. Cher Lloyd, Rebecca Ferguson and, of course, Wagner, the barmy Brazilian from outer-Brum; it was a year that seemed to match a genuine degree of talent with a light-heartedness.
And, of course, it brought together five baby-faced teens who would go on to produce not just the show’s most successful act but one of the most popular boy bands this country has ever seen: One Direction.
Yet because, with The X Factor, what was once pop cultural cache has nowadays become merely pub quiz fodder (the show last aired in December 2018), that snobbishness towards 1D still lingers to this day – despite the many awards its leading light, Harry Styles picks up as a solo artist.
All Of Those Voices, the new documentary from Charlie Lightening (whose prior credits include the award-winning Liam Gallagher: As It Was and The Paul McCartney Project), reminds us that at the heart of the manufactured, Simon Cowell-orchestrated world One Direction once operated in, lie real lads. And one of those young men, Louis Tomlinson, is relatable, honest, and has overcome more than his fair share of struggle under a public spotlight.
The film’s best attribute – and the way it achieves it – is how it’s shot. It’s not so much fly-on-the-wall as it is captured with considerable trust between artist and filmmaker. At one stage toward the end, Louis and his crew joke about the seeming lack of a barrier between each other, and this feels like it was extended to Lightening, too.
As such, Tomlinson is forthright about his sense of having no control over his own (let alone One Direction’s) destiny for at least the first two-and-a-half years of the band. He casts himself as the band’s thinker in a rather shrewd creative light by telling us he’s most proud of being the member with the most songwriting credits.
But another strength of the film is that it doesn’t dwell on Louis’ 1D days. Granted, you can’t tell his story as an artist by ignoring it, but its inclusion merely paints a backdrop of what’s to come, most usefully starting the narrative arc of someone at a loss, personally and creatively, when the band announced their split in late 2015.
From here, Louis begins to build, pensively smoking and staring into empty space like any self-respecting existentialist as he contemplates life as a solo artist. Then, tragedy hits. His mother, Johannah Deakin, with whom he had an exceptionally strong relationship–mainly because of an absent father growing up (which struck a particular nerve with me) – passed away in December 2016 after her battle with leukaemia.
Replays of an X Factor performance Louis gave that very same week, spliced with personal testimony from the present day, remind us of the public gaze he was under during an exceptionally challenging period.
Meanwhile, the tragic death of his sister Félicité in 2018 is discussed in less detail but adds to the image of not just an artist but a man beset by loss, still keeping his head afloat. (A moving discussion with Louis’ grandmother provides insight into the keep-calm-and-carry-on spirit of the whole family).
These make the high points feel all the more gratifying – and there are plenty of those. From the release of his long-awaited debut album Walls in 2020 to his triumphant, Guinness World Record-setting livestream during the pandemic and his subsequent return to a global headline tour, it’s safe to say his artistic trajectory is a pretty sharp incline throughout the film.
But whereas some pop personalities might make that seem like an irksome inevitability, the setbacks Louis Tomlinson faces and, crucially, his authentically affable charm mean you end up rooting for him. Do you have to be a fan of his music? Not at all. Can you still admire the way his personhood is portrayed? Of course. And this film captures that in abundance.
Of course, Louis’ mass of fans will love it. That much is a given. But for a purely personal tale, even the most cynical among us would struggle not to find something from All Of Those Voices. Indeed, we’ve come a long way since the fakery of The X Factor.
All Of Those Voices is in cinemas now.