It’s Lancashire, 1974 – after the height of the glam rock era and before punk’s new wave.
Surprisingly opening with Melanie’s folksy hit, Brand New Key from 1971, welcome to the cobbled, back street world of Northern Soul, where young people forget the gloomy climate by dancing all night to the sounds of imports from the United States.
Loner John Clark (Elliot James Langridge) has little connection with his parents (Christian McKay and Lisa Stansfield) or his peers.
But when he meets Matt (Joshua Whitehouse), their shared love of black soul music radically alters the prism of his working class outlook.
The cars, clothes, decor and green window frames make this feel the most authentic northern period drama since East Is East (1999), which was so good it even included the chip shop range from my childhood.
Here, the awful haircuts, greasy pallors, big collars and half-mast, wide-bottomed trousers ring shockingly true considering the young cast membersweren’t even born in ‘74. There’s also a splendid cameo from Steve Coogan (worth the admission alone) as a volcanic, long-haired teacher whose turns of phrase include: “Do your top button up, we don’t want to see your whispy bum-fluff.”
With crotchety veteran star Ricky Tomlinson (The Royle Family) also chipping in, Northern Soul is brilliant for 20 minutes until debut writer-director Elaine Constantine’s carefully-constructed family set-up is swept away by the music.
Northern Soul has lots of strong language, frequent drug taking and too many punch-ups at the expense of developing a dramatic plot or the kind of dour, domestic intensity that Mike Leigh mastered in Vera Drake (2004).
But there are dance moves galore – thankfully of a kind I never was able to master.
For aficionados, Northern Soul will be a memory-stirring treat, even if, like its predecessor SoulBoy (2010), it doesn’t have the legs to go the full distance.