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

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital