Northern Soul
dir-scr Elaine Constantine
prd Debbie Gray, Julian Gleek, Edward A Crozier
with Elliot James Langridge, Josh Whitehouse, Antonia Thomas, Jack Gordon, James Lance, Steve Coogan, Christian McKay, Lisa Stansfield, Ricky Tomlinson, John Thomson, Ashley Taylor Dawson, Alex Esmail
release UK 17.Oct.14
14/UK 1h42
Northern Soul
Disapproving teacher: Langridge and Coogan

lance mckay stansfield
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Northern Soul Sassy and perhaps a bit too loose, this film is fascinating and extremely effective in capturing an iconic time and place. It also features a group of energetic characters who vividly depict why teens need their own place to belong. But the plot is so undercooked that the movie feels like it slips just out of reach.

In 1974 Lancashire, John (Langridge) is a teen outcast when he meets the lively Matt (Whitehouse), who introduces him to Northern Soul, American R&B circulated on bootleg recordings. In this subculture, John makes new friends (including Thomas and Gordon) and learns a new way to dance. He's also introduced to drugs, which kind of undermine his and Matt's plan to save up cash to go to America. All of this disrupts John's schooling, so he drops out and challenges established DJ Ray (Lance) for supremacy. Ray thinks John has potential, but not with Matt around.

Essentially, this is the story of a friendship born of a shared interest in soul music and ultimately strained by the scene itself. It's fun to watch these kids discover a bigger world, including the groovy 1970s clubs, but everything else is less involving, from an unsurprising romance to the preachy drug-addiction story strand. The gyrations of the narrative are deeply predictable, complete with the big the falling out and the moment of truth. And most of the characters never quite escape from their types.

Thankfully, director Constantine invests the film with a realistic vibe that's cleverly shot and edited. And the performances are remarkably introspective. The youthful actors vividly portray teens with no care for the future, rebelling against life as they discover a counterculture musical scene, dance, amphetamines and trouble. But as the drugs take over, the acting gets increasingly manic, which leaves the roles with nowhere to go. So the starrier adult cast (Coogan, Tomlinson, Stansfield, McKay) struggles to add weight around the edges.

Because of this, the plot itself begins to feel unfocussed, indulging in pointless subplots while never quite developing the central relationships. Still, it's a strikingly recreated portrayal of a momentous musical movement in Britain, complete with the flashy dance moves and distinctive fashion. So at least the film captures a real sense of adolescent energy, along with the accompanying camaraderie, missteps, delusions, longings and, yes, dreams going up in smoke.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs, sexuality 6.Oct.14

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