(directed by Anton Corbijn, starring Sam Riley, Samantha Morton and Alexandra Maria Lara, 123 mins)
released UK 5 October 2007

Joy Division are one of my favourite bands of all time, and their "Unknown Pleasures" album still stands the test of time as one of the greatest debut albums ever released. "Love Will Tear Us Apart", even after all these years, is still my favourite single and song of all time - it just triggers something within that's indescribable and that has to be a definite plus as far as I'm concerned. So when I heard a while back that there was going to be a film based on the life of Ian Curtis, you can imagine my excitement -even more so when I found out that Anton Corbijn was directing it. He did the video for the 1988 re-release of Joy Division's single "Atmosphere" as well as some famously iconic pictures of U2 and Depeche Mode.

So it was with excitment and trepidation that I went to the cinema to see this one. I really wanted it to do Ian justice, and as most of it was based on Deborah Curtis' excellent book "Touching From A Distance" I could only hope that it followed the truth as well as the story, and not delve too much into the personal life but allow for the band's development to be seen on screen as well as Ian's affair with Annik Horore. Anton went to the trouble of locating Annik and also getting her side of the story for the film, which meant that it could be seen from each side of an eternal love triangle.

The first thing that'll strike you is that the whole thing is filmed in black and white: not surprising considering Corbijn's preference for that medium, but it actually makes the whole thing somewhat more dark and more gritty because of it. There's a feeling of uncomfortable numbness throughout because the memories are so vivid and detailed of actual events, but at the same time there's comfort in how it's portrayed too - the scenes of where Curtis used to work at the local job centre, the terraced streets of Macclesfield, are all very Northern and grey, and somehow the black and white just makes it feel as it should.

The telling of the actual story doesn't vary from the truth: from the early days of Ian and Deborah getting together and deciding to get married, live together and have a child, to the times of when Joy Division were called Warsaw and Ian asked to join, the moment when he calls Tony Wilson all sorts of names and wants to get the band on the telly, the now infamous almost myth retelling of Tony signing the band's "contract" in his own blood (a scene also used in the film 24 Hour Party People) and the band performing on the local television station Granada. In fact this last scene did actually happen in real life, and the realism here is completely spot on.

What intrigues most viewers is the depressive state that Ian would get in - from the start of meeting Annik to the desperation of knowing that he needs to find a way out of what he called a mistake in marrying Deborah too early - but not upsetting her or the daughter Natalie, and how that would torture him, along with the epileptic seizures along the way that got progressively worse. So much so that the gig at Bury's Derby Hall he hardly appeared and other band members took his place vocally - and there was a riot that night. This is shown in the film too, lovingly recreated and with full on perfomance throughout that feels really intense. It really does tell it like it is, and that really did appeal to me.

So what of the portyals? Well, I thought that Sean Harris' Ian Curtis in "24 Hour Party People" was excellent, but Sam Riley gets it even more spot on here. From the mannerisms to the clothes and the look, to the dancing on stage and even the epileptic fits (he actually researched it to make sure he portrayed it accurately) as well as the strong vocal performance, everything just feels wonderfully right. What amazes me is how he's even got the deep thinking tortured soul right, and how when with Annik (excellently played by Alexandra Maria Lara) the sparks fly inside that tortured soul. Considering Riley and Lara fell in love during the shooting, the chemistry is just like it would have been - electric - and you can feel that.

Samantha Morton does one of her finest roles yet as Deborah, coming across the Northern woman with flashes of emotion, passion and desperation later on all in one. You can see how the film develops how Deborah becomes, and Samantha captures all of that gamut of emotions really well. Her look of anguish and cry for help at the end almost made me want to cry, it just felt so touchingly poignant. Craig Parkinson's Tony Wilson really does go for the more cultured educated side, whilst being the supportive and authorative TV figure, and works really well for the feel across.

The other members of Joy Division have expressed an admiration for how each of themselves have been shown in the film and you can't say better than that. Most notable is Joe Anderson playing Peter Hook, getting across the Northern wit and humour spot on and saying things that only Hooky would, but Harry Treadaway (Stephen Morris) and James Pearson (Bernard Summer) also lend very good roles too. One thing I should mention at this point: all the Joy Division live performances that are in the film are done by the four actors who make up the band, and they are impressive performances indeed - really keeping the spirit of the band intact and so much so, their live version of "Transmission" is actually on the soundtrack CD and doesn't seem out of place one bit. And as a fan, I can't give it higher praise than that.

One other notable figure is Toby Kebbell who plays Rob Gretton, the band's manager. He comes across as Northern, swears a lot and really doesn't mess around. If anything this is a vastly under-rated performace for me, it really works well and you can tell the feeling he gets when he sees Ian and Annik turn up at his place that he doesn't want to lie for Deborah, but feels duty bound to look after Ian too - also, the way he decks people at the Bury Derby Hall gig is exactly how people would have remembered it at the time. Spot on performance there.

There's just something about the whole film that will grip you and not want you to leave throughout - it has that undefinable quality of being able to allow you in to someone's private life without seeming like you're prying and that's credit to Corbijn for the fact that you can feel the closeness of the whole thing without being suffocated - and that the real events that did happen are shown in such a good relativity to the story. One thing that struck me was a woman in the job centre who had an epileptic fit in front of Curtis, and how some time after he found out that she'd died. It inspired him to write "She's Lost Control" which in itself showed the sensitivity of the writing and how it was something that inevitably that Curtis would have to cope with.

At no time is anything sensationalised, even the ending, which tells it like it happened and is something that is powerful and moving. I felt moved to tears and that was saying something, I think the whole feel of the film made you realise just how hard everything was back then and despite the band doing well the success led ultimately to Curtis not being able to cope with it all - and it's all delivered with not just the fascination of a fan (Corbijn has long admired the music) but with the passion of someone who wanted to tell the story as it was - he even put his own money into it.

Suffice to say that despite the awful version of Shadowplay by The KiIllers over part of the end credits (the only minus point) it's not only one of the best biopics made, but an excellent film debut for Corbijn and one that tells the story of one of the greatest indie bands of all time. For that alone along with some excellent acting performances, this could well by my film of the year and as such deserves to be seen at least once, if not more. If you're a fan of a band, this is a must. If you're not, go and understand just why the band were so bloody good.

Warren's rating: 93%