Photographer Anton Corbijn took the defining picture of Joy Division a few months before lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life. Since then Corbijn has made a name for himself for his virtuoso music videos for Depeche Mode and U2. A neat circle is made complete as the Dutch director makes his feature film debut with a portrait of Curtis.
The main source material cited is Deborah Curtis’ compelling book Touching From a Distance, but Corbijn chooses to turn a blind eye to some of the most hard-hitting and often unexplored allegations made against Curtis, notably that he had fascist tendencies that went beyond the clothes he wore. To his credit, Corbijn has done extensive research talking to all the important people surrounding Curtis and the result is a haunting image of a man who couldn’t cope with the stress of fame, cheating on his wife and enduring a series of painful epileptic seizures.
It will come as no surprise to fans of Corbijn’s music videos that he has shot this film in black and white. The monochrome is fitting, not only because this provides a rich aesthetic that reaches its apex in a scene in which Curtis is hypnotised in a chair but also since most photos from the era are black and white. Starting as a celebration of the singer’s brilliant way with words, Control is very much a portrait of Curtis rather than Joy Division and both Peter Hook (Joe Anderson) and Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson) remain on the periphery (although mention must be made of the brilliant portrayal of Joy Division manager Rob Gretton by Toby Kebbell).
Much of the film’s focus is on him cheating on his wife (Samantha Morton) with Annick Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara of Downfall). Like many portraits of music stars Control focuses on the tragedy rather than the fun moments, even with the late, great, Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson) punctuating proceedings. But Sam Riley is a revelation in the lead role in what is one of the outstanding British films of the year.
General release from Fri 5 Oct.