Directed by: Elaine Constantine
Starring: Steve Coogan, Antonia Thomas, Ricky Tomlinson, Christian McKay, Alex Esmail
Northern Soul was a cultural movement that occurred in the North of England, primarily Manchester and its satellite towns, in the mid-70s. Turned off by what they considered the pretension of glam and prog rock, youths looked back to the soul music that came out of US cities like Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia a decade prior. The birth of what we now know as clubbing culture, Northern Soul was the first musical movement led by those who appreciated the music, rather than those who created it. None of the scene's stars were musicians, as the biggest tunes were often the most obscure, many recorded by unknown singers who only ever cut one record. The stars of Northern Soul were instead its curators, the DJs who travelled to Northern US cities, returning with trunks loaded with obscure vinyl.
Northern Soul had more in common with stamp collecting than with later clubbing movements like Acid House in the 80s or Rave in the 90s, but Elaine Constantine's film is closer to Trainspotting, the film, than trainspotting, the hobby. Northern Soul has as much to do with Northern Soul as Brighton Rock has to do with Brighton Rock.
For the first 30 minutes or so, we get the movie we expect, as two young men bond over a new found love of the music, but like so many movies set against a musical backdrop, Constantine's fails to communicate just why the music effects her protagonists so profoundly, and seems to miss the point completely in a scene in which one of the young leads transcribes song lyrics. Norther Soul was purely about danceable rhythms; lyrics were very much secondary, and many of the songs featured prose that was far from poetic. When the two friends encounter a third soul obsessive, a Cockney hiding out from the police in Lancashire, the movie falls apart and loses focus, turning into the sort of second rate drug drama that became popular for a while in UK cinema in the wake of Danny Boyle's 90s hit.
As a fan of soul music, I didn't think it could be possible to make a movie about Northern Soul that's so mind-numbingly dull. If you're interested in learning more about the scene, there are some great documentaries available on YouTube. Save for a handful of great tunes, this fictional account has little to offer.
By Eric Hillis