Review: ‘Northern Soul’ captures music-driven movement

Tom Long
The Detroit News

“Northern Soul” drops a standard, rowdy, coming-of-age story into a very specific time and cultural movement that most Americans are unaware of, even though it was fueled by American music.

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, teenagers in Northern England, Wales and Scotland developed an obsession with obscure American soul music. These weren’t the Motown or Stax hits, they were 45s released by small regional labels. British DJs would collect whatever records they could find and then host amphetamine-inspired all night dance parties in rented halls or clubs.

Devotees of Northern soul had their own high-kicking, constant bouncing dance style, and their own fashion sense — wide-bottom pants that flopped about as they danced, tattoos, leather jackets.

Into this scene in 1974 comes John Clark (Elliot James Langridge), an awkward fellow who goes to a local youth club one night and meets Matt (Joshua Whitehouse), a tall, gangly guy who’s not afraid to dance outrageously. Matt soon introduces John to the Northern soul lifestyle.

John eventually drops out of school and moves in with Matt. They work side by side, supposedly saving money for a trip to America so they can buy all sorts of soul records, bring them back to England and become famous DJs. At work they meet another, rougher and older Northern soul enthusiast, Sean (Jack Gordon), who takes them in dangerous directions.

The first feature from writer-director Elaine Constantine, herself a Northern soul veteran, the film follows a fairly familiar innocent-led-astray storyline. But it’s not really about the story — it’s about the time and the sweaty dance floor, the need for release and the power of music. With this in mind, “Northern Soul” captures the grit and passion of the moment quite nicely.

tlong@detroitnews.com

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‘Northern Soul’

GRADE: C+

Rated R for drug use, language throughout and brief sexuality

Running time: 102 minutes