England’s mid-’70s pop scene gets authentic in Northern Soul

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Starring Elliot James Langridge. Rating unavailable.

      The mid-’70s pop scene of England’s Manchester area, which chased after ever-more-obscure soul singles, had a transformative effect, predicting later obsessive moves into punk and electronic dance music. We missed that action on this side of the pond, where music by black Americans, while seriously underappreciated, was always more available.

      First-time writer-director Elaine Constantine began Northern Soul as a documentary project and then switched to a fictionalized approach, with support from producer Steve Coogan, who appears briefly as an asshole schoolteacher, alongside various family members. The cast is mostly made of newcomers, and they are very good indeed. Elliot James Langridge plays John Clark, an unusually shy but basically good everykid who comes to life when getting off on stateside jams.

      He gains more confidence after encountering local DJ Matt (Josh Whitehouse), who shares his passions, has long-hair-and-tattoo looks, and is a mean dancer with big ideas. Matt’s also a self-destructive pill-popper of uncertain background and future, but he inspires John to fook off from school and parents (veteran Ricky Tomlinson plays his kindly grandfather), and eventually to chat up a mixed-race, slightly older nursing student (Antonia Thomas, who had a similar role in the recent Sunshine on Leith).

      The period setting is gorgeously gritty, with its soundtrack a velvet goldmine of rare sides from the likes of Edwin Starr, Shirley Ellis, and the Tomangoes (okay, I never heard of them either). And you can see why Constantine was drawn to the bromantic adventures of misfit lads never featured on Coronation Street. But it’s still odd that she would push all the female characters so far to the margins of what’s already an outsider story. Instead of piling up more macho conflicts than it ever needed, considering how strong the atmosphere (and dialect) is here, she could easily have given us a couple more things that made the girls move.