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
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

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.

    The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

    The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

    They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
    A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

    Dropout generation failed by colleges

    £800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
    Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
    Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

    Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

    Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch