Control (2007)

Director: Anton de Corbijn

Starring: Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Toby Kebbell, Alexandra Maria Lara

Cinematography: Martin Ruhe

Book: Deborah Curtis

Screenplay: Marin Greenhalgh

Bit Part: John Cooper Clarke (as himself)

FACT: Curtis is consoled after an epileptic fit: "At least you're not the singer out of The Fall!" Sam Riley had played Mark E.Smith in 24 Hour Party People, but didn't make the final cut.

LIE: Greenhalgh won a  BAFTA  for special achievement by a British director, writer or producer in their first feature film, but this wasn't his first screenplay. Greenhalgh's obsession with the name 'Ian' has led him to write numerous scripts for unmade biopics about Ian Dowie, Ian Storey-Moore and Eastenders' everyman Ian Beale.

In one lineThe life and death of Ian Curtis.


The young Ian Curtis meets Debbie Woodruff at their local comprehensive school in 1973. They marry young and meet the rest of the band who would later compose Warsaw and Joy Division at a legendary Sex Pistols gig at Manchester Free Trade Hall. Granada TV presenter Tony Wilson and foul mouthed local DJ Rob Gretton get involved in the lives of the band as Factory Records owner and Joy Division manager respectively and the band begins to make a name for itself. Curtis's epilepsy, aloofness an other worldliness drive him away from Debbie. Curtis meets Belgian fanzine writer Annik Honoré and they start an affair. His epilepsy grows worse and Curtis finds it increasingly difficult to reconcile his attraction to Annik Honoré with his sense of what is right with Debbie and their recently born child. His tangled love life and an impending Joy Division tour of America push him ever closer to tragedy...


Control is a really beautiful film. Director Corbijn was almost the band's official photographer and produced many memorable images for the NME in Joy Division's two years of greatness (1978-80). Every shot of this film could be framed as a photograph and just as in his days as a photographer, Corbijn turns Manchester and its environs into a place of mystery and beauty. And that's no mean feat.

As a version of the truth, I'm sure that it's miles away from the reality of events, but I doubt if that was the purpose of the film. Some of the shots and shot compositions are just magical at times. There are occasions when you see the actors playing Hook, Sumner and Morris in the background of a shot where 'Curtis' is foregrounded and you'd think that the band had come to life again. The recreation of the live performances is very impressive and even if you know nothing of the band or this era, it wouldn't be difficult to appreciate the intensity of the acting or the beauty of the film's aesthetics.

Riley and Morton (in a quiet, unflashy role) are superb. I'm not so sure about Craig Parkinson's Tony Wilson, though. Wilson is such a 'known' persona that anything other than a Coogan-like impression of the man just seems strange. By the same 'token' Toby Kebbell's Rob Gretton is very similar to Paddy Considine's version (again from 24 Hour Party People) so I suppose, it's a fine and difficult balance for an actor to maintain. Gretton must be one of the most unpleasant characters ever committed to celluloid.

The depiction of Curtis's last, lonely epileptic fits is one of the saddest things I've seen in a film. The final crane shot of a smoke plume of ashes rising from the cemetery crematorium leaves us in no doubt that we are watching Cobijn's hagiography of Curtis rather than any sort of regular biopic.

Curtis is shown watching Herzog's US-set comedy Strozsek on BBC 2 just before he kills himself. Perhaps if the BBC had broadcast Dick Emery's Ooh...You Are Awful, he might have lived longer.

Or died sooner.