Film Review: Northern Soul (MA15+) (UK, 2015)

northern soul

Ask most people what the term ‘Northern Soul’ means to them and there’s a very good chance you will be met with a blank expression. This movement, that grew from a love of American Soul music in England’s north, sprang into being in the late 60’s. With the British Mod scene on the wane, the natural replacement for many a Mod was this burgeoning scene. While American soul was slowly transitioning to the funkier sound of bands such as Sly and the Family Stone, the 60’s Motown Tamla sound was what the Northern Soul crowd honed in on. With this music came an energetic dance style that incorporated spins, flips and karate kicks.

Northern Soul opens as its lead John (Elliot James Langridge) navigates the tricky terrain of leaving school in a small northern town where opportunities to do anything other than manual labour are thin on the ground. The depression of 70’s England hangs in the air as John eventually finds his way to the local youth club. Here he befriends fellow misfit Matt (Josh Whitehouse) and the pair bond over their love of soul music. From here the film shifts to another gear as the pair emerge themselves into the Northern Soul scene.

To begin with the film zips along at a blistering pace which perfectly encapsulates the frenzied excitement of these young men. Anyone who’s experienced the excitement of discovering a music scene that resonates profoundly with them will lap this up. It’s captures the feeling wonderfully, be it in it’s intense, sweaty, drug-fuelled dance scenes or the tangible thrill of listening to a record that makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up and take notice.

However, like all good things, nothing lasts for ever. Drugs begin to take a destructive hold of Matt which creates a rift between him, John and Sean (Jack Gordon), a London drug dealer who has an equal love of Soul. And here is where the film begins to lose its zest, understandably. It slows, and like its characters, gets stuck in a rut for the middle section. Here the film becomes somewhat formulaic; it feels like we’ve seen this film many times before. We have the rise, the fall and the redemption/reunion. It’s a shame because up until this point the film buzz’s with excitement and energy. This has a lot to do with its direction and editing but also its cast. The main cast are great, Langridge, Whitehouse and Gordon hold the film together with acting chops which belies there relative inexperience.

Starting at a blistering pace, Northern Soul, much like the scene it depicts, can’t keep it going. Sadly it settles for formulaic predictability in its final third but still has enough about it (including a great cast) to keep you interested until the final spin.

Running Time: 98 minutes

Northern Soul is available to download on Digital HD from 15th April 2015 from iTunes and all other major platforms through Entertainment One


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