As vibrant and energetic as it is hard-hitting and gritty, Northern Soul immerses you into one of the liveliest subcultures in Britain from start to finish. Set in the otherwise bleak 70s Lancashire, the film showcases the music, dancing, drama and drugs that brought together a generation of alienated youths. John (Langridge), is a disaffected schoolboy looking for something more. Cue reckless, decadent Matt (Josh Whitehouse), who introduces him to the Northern Soul movement. Their friendship grows and the two set about following their dream of traveling to the States to seek out rare records to start their own club. Of course, sucked in by the high energy scene brewing, this leads them onto one hell of a ride.
It is a film as much about finding yourself as it is about the music, although the two undoubtedly go hand in hand. The soundtrack is at the forefront and it doesn’t fail to deliver: packed with fast-paced, toe-tapping American soul, it couldn’t be more authentic. Visually, the performance matches, with an abundance of captivating dance sequences. The film inevitably calls out to those who lived through the scene, and to those of you who didn’t, it will make you wish that you had. It crosses through the generations with its anti-establishment, community-focused basis, and this highly anticipated film has already leapt into the UK Box Office Top 10 despite its limited release.
As the directorial debut of photographer Elaine Constantine, it is clear to see her talents cross through the mediums. Her striking cinematography is complemented by her close attention to detail; from the perfectly accurate sets, carefully chosen outfits, right down to the raucous nights out in Wigan Casino. The shots are all beautifully constructed, with a particular focus on the characters. The shot of complete admiration when Langridge first sees Whitehouse dancing upon their meeting encapsulates that feeling of being completely lost in music and how something seemingly so simple can definitively change a person’s life.
Though laced with brazen British humour and upbeat sounds, there are shocking twists which, for the most part, add excellently executed drama into the character’s lives, showing the despairs of drug binges, undercover cops and broken friendships. However, the story does feel disjointed at points, as it sometimes too abruptly descends into the darker side. Ultimately, the film is not depressing, for as much as it throws you into speed-fuelled all-night parties then slams you in the face with its harsh realities, it is the movement that brings everything back together. It feels reminiscent of Trainspotting with its bold realism, and fits right into this rising sub-genre of nostalgic British youth films.
Brilliant performances are given from all the cast, especially by the two leads. Langridge changes in front of us from a timid, disillusioned teen into a passionate, confident soulie. By the end, it feels as if we have truly grown up alongside him, we feel a real connection and a part of their worlds. Whitehouse, who co-stars as his crazed best friend, also delivers a powerful, at times shocking, performance filled with fiery dialogue. The pair are thrilling to watch as they navigate their way through this fast-paced culture alongside a strong supporting cast featuring Steve Coogan, Jack Gordon and Antonia Thomas.
Overall it is a wonderfully crafted film, both authentically recreating the atmosphere and vibe of the Northern Soul scene and telling a compelling story about the people involved. It does what so many other films fail to do: it gives you pure passion with every scene, with every piece of dialogue and with each piece of carefully constructed footwork. Prepare yourselves for a vivacious, beat-heavy, amphetamine-fueled journey. As the film shouts out to us, “This is underground, but it’s gonna be massive!”