Elaine Constantine

Review: Northern Soul

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The Pitch: Seriously, what are you not getting from that title? #Ronseal

The Review: In a way, I’m glad that I was born in 1974. To say I’ve got two left feet would be an insult to left feet, and most of the dancing I’ve gotten away with – barely – in nightclubs over the years has been of the variety where you plant your feet as close together as possible and wave your hands about a bit while trying not to move your shoulders too much. I had a ceilidh at my wedding, cunningly ensuring that someone would be shouting instructions during my first dance and the thought of having to actually, properly dance – to anything – fills me with fear and dread. Thankfully I missed the age of proper dancing, waltzes and foxtrots, but I’d have also been the embarrassing one had I ended up in one of the great Northern soul venues of the Seventies: Catacombs, the Golden Torch or Wigan Casino, to name but a few.

But the stars of Elaine Constantine’s new film show no fear when it comes to the dance floor. Elliot James Langridge is John, a troubled teen whose only connection is with his grandfather and who hates everything else, spraying graffiti on the walls of his town to show his contempt for it. He’s looking to rebel, and he finds an outlet in the Northern soul music he hears at a local disco. Hooking up with Matt (Joshua Whitehouse), the pair drop out and become entranced by the counter-culture thrills of the new music and dancing. While aspiring to top the likes of soul DJ Ray Henderson (James Lance), the pair also get caught up in the seedier underbelly of the soul nights, and bad language on the mikes becomes the least of their worries.

There’s two things you have to get right if you’re going to make a Northern soul movie, and that’s the music and the dancing. Langridge and Whitehouse, along with the rest of the young cast, throw themselves in with gusto and the film’s soundtrack is a fantastic testament to the kind of rare, up tempo American soul records that DJs were hunting down and playing to large crowds for over a decade (and still, in many cases to this day). Northern Soul the film practically throbs with energy, and first time director Constantine keeps the pace constantly moving, even if she doesn’t have massive amounts of plot at her disposal (working from her own script). What it doesn’t do is skimp on the detail, both of what made the scene so compelling and also what might have made it slightly less than attractive; it’s a warts and all picture that’s a vote for gritty realism but rather less of a poster campaign for all night dancing.

If you’ve seen the trailer and are thinking of watching the film for the celebrity names, then I think it’s fair to warn you now that the likes of Steve Coogan, John Thomson and Ricky Tomlinson are simply on board for various lengths of cameo, but no matter. Langridge and Whitehouse carry the story along effectively enough, but it’s really just a vehicle for Constantine to relive some of the more satisfying thrills of her youth. The bigger dance nights are well staged, and for good measure there’s a reasonable car chase in the last act as well. If you can forgive the overfamiliarity of John’s initial rebellion then Northern Soul does a decent job of encapsulating the appeal of listening to unfamiliar American soul music while performing powerful, almost aggressive dance moves. I might have been too young to appreciate Northern soul the first time round, but maybe I could still be tempted into throwing a few spins and karate kicks at a Northern dance night. (As long as you’re not watching.)

Why see it in the cinema: If you’re a fan of Northern soul or think you could be (for example, did you like The Commitments but think it was a bit safe), then the best place to hear the soundtrack will be via the speakers of your local flea pit. (I would suggest finding a decent cinema rather than an actual flee pit, although I have been to a few over the years that seem to have been in a time capsule since the Seventies.)

What about the rating? Rated 15 for strong language, drug use and sex. Or a Saturday night as they call it up north.

The Score: 7/10 (you can add one if you’re a Northern soul fan already)

Thanks to Jess at Sundae Communications for supplying the screener which enabled me to review this.