Control (2007)

Starring: Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Joe Anderson, Craig Parkinson, Alexandra Maria Lara, James Anthony Pearson, Toby Kebbell

Directed by: Anton Corbijn

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Sam Riley as Ian Curtis in Control

It seems appropriate that the year that saw the death of colourful media mogul Tony Wilson should also see the release of this powerful and absorbing film about his greatest discovery, Manchester protogoths Joy Division.

But while Craig Parkinson may be playing Steve Coogan rather than Wilson, don't go expecting 24 Hour Party People 2. For although the gut-wrenching music of the band and their rise to indie fame may form the backbone of the film, its heart and soul are the history of the band's doomed singer Ian Curtis, his relationship with wife Deborah and his battles with epilepsy and depression.

The couple meet while still at school, and marry almost immediately. But as any fan of biopics knows, tortured genius and family values rarely go hand in hand, and Curtis's burgeoning fame and increasing ill health soon start to take their toll on the relationship. When he meets glamorous Belgian fan Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara) love literally does start to tear him apart.

Based on Deborah Curtis's autobiography of her husband, Touching the Distance, this is a bold and nakedly honest film that makes no attempt to paper over its central protagonist's flaws (compare it to Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, a total whitewash put forward by the dead martial arts hero's wife). Instead, Control presents a sensitive, convincing portrait of a complex and troubled man at odds with the world around him.

Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbell) and Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) meet Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson)

Shot entirely in black and white, this is also a starkly beautiful movie. Director Anton Corbijn was the band's photographer back in the day, and he assembles each shot of the film like a photograph, a perfect, dramatic composition of light and shadow; the dark profile of Curtis, cigarette between his lips, silhouetted against the blank magnolia walls of his dreary Macclesfield home; an album of images from the late 1970s brought strikingly to life.

The performances from newcomer Sam Riley (who may look more like Pete Doherty, but who captures Curtis's glassy-eyed stare and weird robotic dancing to a T) and the ever-excellent Samantha Morton as Deborah are also pitch perfect, naturalistic as a documentary and absolutely convincing, while the supporting cast are equally fine, particularly James Anthony Pearson and Joe Anderson as a prissy Bernard Sumner and sardonic Peter Hook, and Toby Kebbell as the band's Mancunian wideboy manager, Rob Gretton.

A musical biopic that mixes the seedy glamour of Velvet Goldmine with the wit and gritty British realism of a Mike Leigh script, Control is a gorgeous, monochromatic moodpiece that makes you reflect on the beauty and fragility of love and relationships, genius and the human minds. Whatever your opinion of Joy Division, this is an unmissable film, a dark, mesmerising and deeply moving work of art that's as multi-layered and perfectly crafted as the music it celebrates.

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