Dancers’ feet in dapper shoes moving frantically about a well-worn floor — it’s a recurring image in Northern Soul. And it characterizes the film itself: This debut feature by Elaine Constantine has no shortage of style, but ultimately relies a lot on cliché.
In early-1970s England, John (Elliot James Langridge), bored of home and school, meets Matt (Joshua Whitehouse), a local DJ. Matt is an obvious bad boy, tattooed and long-haired, and the pair become friends — imported American soul records become both their salvation and their undoing, and their friendship goes through all the fistfights and drug-filled frustrations you might expect from laddish culture. The word “fookin’ ” is tossed about with abandon, and the few women onscreen are usually delivering sarcastic comebacks to the men’s entitled attitudes.
Northern Soul‘s closest analogue in setting and time period is Velvet Goldmine, but this film doesn’t veer into experimental territory. Constantine has a background in fashion photography, and it shows: She creates an atmosphere of British dreariness, and the period costumes (pointy collars aplenty) are well executed without feeling overstated. The soundtrack is predictably strong, with the energy and longing of Northern Soul music feeling like an escape.
While the dynamics of John and Matt’s troubled friendship are nothing new, Northern Soul does a fine job of creating their world: Steve Coogan turns up as a teacher, and an early scene set in a bustling record shop, for instance, is lovingly rendered and sure to inspire a wave of nostalgia, even if you never lived in such places.
Directed by Elaine Constantine
Opens October 2, AMC Empire 25
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 29, 2015