Review: Northern Soul

Wigan Casino's dance scene.
Wigan Casino's dance scene.

Northern Soul’s lively beat evokes memories of Wigan all-nighters and Blackpool Mecca among those of us old enough to remember.

In the film Northern Soul, the plot follows a formula that’s been tried and tested in other films of the same genre such as Saturday Night Fever and The Commitments: young working class teenagers using music and/or dance to escape their dreary existence.

The two young protagonists, John (Elliot James Langridge) and Matt (Josh Whitehouse) are disaffected teenagers growing up in a Lancashire town who are brought together by their passion for Northern Soul music, with dreams of going to America to seek out rare records and make a name for themselves. Their idealism becomes tainted when they turn to ‘speed’ - amphetamines - to fuel the demands created by the up-all-night Northern Soul scene with its athletic dance 
moves. Their behaviour become all the more frenetic with tragic consequences.

The film offers a grittily realistic portrayal of a youth culture that sought to create its own identity through dress, music and dance styles, with Wigan Casino seen as a mecca for young soulers determined to push themselves beyond the boundaries of physical capability in order to create their own definition of a good time.

But unlike The Commitments, it is light on laughs and its characters do little to endear.

The portrayal of angry young men seems over-egged, though, ultimately, John and Matt find salvation in friendship and redemption through the purity of the Northern Soul lyrics.

There are some good cameo performances from Lisa Stansfield, Ricky Tomlinson and Steve Coogan, with the latter’s portrayal as a sardonic teacher bringing to mind memories of a former geography teacher back in the 70s.

But ultimately it is the music that is the star of the show.