Control (15)

5.00

A rock'n'roll suicide

The date was 11 April 1980, the location the unabashedly scuzzy venue of the Russell Club in Manchester. Taking the stage without a word, the band kicked off with an instrumental, the drummer pounding out an ominous tattoo, the other three rapt and hunched over their guitars, backs to the audience. The sound just kept coming in great waves, metallic, melodic, oddly possessed. I was 15, and I'd never seen anything quite like Joy Division. I still haven't.

Just over a month later the lead singer, Ian Curtis, hanged himself, aged 23, on the eve of the band's first tour of the US. The story of his troubled life is now the subject of a movie, Control, and it would have been very easy for its director, Anton Corbijn, to romanticise it as one of rock's poetic, whom-the-gods-love, tragedies.

That he hasn't speaks well of his restraint. Corbijn, a Dutch photographer who took iconic pictures of Joy Division for the NME, hasn't even made a music movie, though music is an essential part of it.

Shot in dreamily evocative black and white, Control looks like a throwback to the kitchen-sink school of British movie-making. In the early scenes, the newcomer Sam Riley plays Curtis as the Northern working-class hero, smoking on his narrow bed, listening to David Bowie and shyly romancing the girl, Debbie (Samantha Morton), whom he will soon marry.

Low-key normality predominates: he trudges towards the labour exchange where he has a desk job, he sets up home in Macclesfield with Debbie, he loiters palely in front of cobbled streets and high-rise flats. Yet, even as Joy Division come together and his life becomes more crowded, Curtis always carries the air of a loner, a man set apart by his peculiar vulnerability. There's something plaintively funny in the sight of him clinging to his wife in the midst of her birth-throes; once she delivers their child, he slumps into a chair, exhausted, as if he's the one who has just been through the wringer.

The other band members hardly seem to notice how tormented he is. When he suffers his first epileptic fit, as they drive back to Manchester from London, they are panicked and confused. Later, however, when he collapses on stage mid-song and has to be carried off, the others are so used to his illness that they joke about it. One can't blame them for not understanding: the NHS doctor who prescribes Curtis pills for his condition barely seems to know what to do either.

Life very quickly gets too much for him. His affair with a Belgian girl, Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), derails his marriage and guilt exacerbates his depression. Corbijn doesn't make a big deal about the way this came out in his lyrics, but it's there for all to hear in the elegy of "Atmosphere", the breakdown of "Love Will Tear Us Apart", or the threnody of "Dead Souls". When he sings, "They keep calling me/ Keep on calling me", I had my single genuine moment of hair-raising dread in the cinema this year.

What's mysterious is how the band found a match for his words in their music. Early on we see Peter Hook (Joe Anderson), Stephen Morris (Harry Treadaway) and Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson) decide to form a band after watching the Sex Pistols in Manchester, but once their brief tuneless phase as Warsaw is over, the magnificently strange Gothic of Joy Division seems to derive not from punk – or even from Iggy Pop, David Bowie or Lou Reed – but from the very clangour of the post-industrial North itself. It was surely destiny that the Mancunian impresario Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson) should have signed them to a label called Factory.

Corbijn honours this creative otherness without feeling compelled to explain it, and, considering the laconic, introverted nature of Morris and Sumner, and the Salford surliness of Hooky, you sense it's an explanation worth leaving alone.

On the strength of the music and the photography this would already be a fascinating film. What raises it to an unmissable one is Sam Riley's eerie impersonation of Curtis, not just in his opaque, wanly innocent face and the defeated hang of his shoulders, but in those moments on stage when the singer pushed himself frighteningly to the brink, clutching the mike in both hands or breaking into the famous trapped-butterfly dance that seemed imitative of his own epilepsy.

But Riley's performance reaches to something universal, too, the yearning quality of a young man unable to cope with the internal rebellions of his own mind and body. The fit that he suffers alone in his house, towards the end, is dreadfully upsetting and sad. Samantha Morton as Debbie hints at the task of trying to sustain a relationship with Curtis; she too has that wronged, pleading look of the kitchen-sink spouse, left holding a year-old baby and an inadequate idea of the man she loved. She wasn't alone in the latter. Morris admitted in a recent interview that the band were too young to understand Curtis's cries for help; and as for his doom-haunted lyrics, "we never really listened to them, to be honest".

But while his self-destruction was a tragedy, the film refuses to turn Curtis into someone more profound than he really was. Weakness in dealing with the consequences of infidelity and an inefficient healthcare system were the main factors in his undoing, as they have been for countless others. It's just that he also happened to be the heart and soul of an amazing rock band. Control is a tremendous memorial.

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London