On the Road (3 stars)

On the Road

credit: Jono White

Wolf Alice are the focus of this semi-fictional tour documentary from Michael Winterbottom

At one point in Michael Winterbottom's documentary, the vocalist and guitarist of London-based indie rockers Wolf Alice, Ellie Rowsell, explains to a journalist how their name was inspired by an Angela Carter short story. Winterbottom inserts a quote from the text shortly after and glides his camera over the excitable faces of female fans in the audience of their UK tour, which takes them to Manchester, Norwich, Glasgow and beyond. He is aware that Rowsell is a role model for young women and yet doesn't spend enough time getting to know her or the band.

Instead the director chooses to blend fact and fiction, in a similar but less accomplished manner to his work on The Trip – inserting a flimsy fake romance between a roadie and a music manager, played by James McArdle and Leah Harvey. The young actors are fantastic and ease into the group convincingly, yet their story feels fabricated from the start. The film is at its best when it lets the musicians speak for themselves.

Observing the band play acoustic radio sessions, attempt to get some rest, dance to noughties rock hits and share jokes as they sit around and wait for the next gig adds an intimacy that also reveals how much hard work goes into making them successful. Winterbottom captures that giddy feeling between excitement and exhaustion that comes from being on tour, and inserts interesting snippets of conversations from the crew.

The gig scenes are atmospheric and filmed from the audience's point-of-view, with the noise slightly distorted and Rowsell whipping up a thrilling mood. After watching these modest musicians perform and hang out for two hours you'll want to book tickets to see them play live immediately.

Selected release from Fri 6 Oct.

On the Road

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • UK
  • 1h 52min
  • Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
  • Cast: James McArdle, Leah Harvey, Shirley Henderson

This documentary of breakthrough band Wolf Alice’s tour of the UK and Ireland is coupled with the tale of a blossoming romance between Glasgow roadie Joe and Estelle, who works for the band's management.