Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review: Northern Soul makes your feet move

A warm chuckle of nostalgic recognition was emanating from the primarily middle-aged crowd at the Friday night screening of Northern Soul through the auditorium of the Duke of York's on more than one occasion. First time director Elaine Constantine (who was 9 at the time the film is set) has created a nostalgic love letter to leather jackets, rare American records and unsuccessful attempts to grow a mustache.

In 1974 Lancashire, the writing is literally on the wall. A large graffiti on the side of a house announces proudly: "Brunswick is a shithole." This act of vandalism was committed by John (Elliot James Langridge), a disenfranchised teenager. Growing up in the North has left him utterly bored and frustrated. It's not until he hears a different kind of music that he finally becomes himself. Together with his new friend Matt (Josh Whitehouse), he hatches big plans: they want to open their own club before going to America. The music is of course Northern Soul.

If you are, like me, unfamiliar with the music, the style and the attitude of the movement, it takes the film a while to settle in this unfamiliar environment. The pop-culture references went over my head and I found it difficult to engage with the characters. After about half an hour, this began to change, as the film finds it groove and the soundtrack steps up a gear. Once the characters make it to a nightclub in Wigan, I found myself tapping my feet to the rhythm of the soul and the romance between John and his crush Angela (Antonia Thomas) is very well played.

Northern Soul doesn't share the unabashed optimism of films like Good Vibrations though. Constantine makes no secrets of the excessive drug consumption that accompanied their intense partying and the story takes some surprisingly dark turns. This doesn't always work, as there is no place for sadness in nostalgia. As I was walking out of the cinema, a woman said to me: "I liked it, but there should have been more happy times. It's fucking Northern Soul!" She has a point, but the film is nevertheless a fascinating portrait of a subculture which is worth discovering and will make it impossible to sit completely still in the cinema chair. You should also keep your eyes open for a very funny Steve Coogan cameo as a Partridge-esque teacher.

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