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Spin, Get High and the Dying Fly.
on 15 January 2012
Soulboy is directed by Shimmy Marcus and written by Jeff Williams. It stars Martin Compston, Felicity Jones, Alfie Allen, Nichola Burley, Pat Shortt and Craig Parkinson. Music is by Len Arran and photography by Vladimir Trivic.
1974, Stoke-On-Trent, and Joe McCain (Compston) is tiring of his humdrum, repetitive life. Then one day, prompted by his work colleague Brendan (Shortt), Joe finds the gumption to seek a date with pretty hairdresser Jane Rogers (Burley). She opens up a new world to him, a burgeoning music scene in the North of England known as Northern Soul, the epicentre of which is the Casino Club in Wigan. But as Joe begins to find his identity in a blast of all night dancing and friendship, drugs, violence and matters of the heart begin to hover over him like dark clouds waiting to unload.
Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy.
It's best just to say it straight off, this is hardly a film to do Northern Soul justice. The movement itself is forming the backdrop to a very basic, run-of-the-mill, coming of age romantic tale. Which is sad, that the plot is so weak and poorly written, because the music, dancing and period awareness is joyous. But at least its heart is in the right place, as it's always charming and quite often funny before things get serious in the final third; even if a dance off sequence in said final third is unintentionally daft. From the 70s vibe of Stoke-On-Trent, with the terrace houses and the potteries buildings, to the recreation of Wigan's famous Casino Club (it sadly burnt down in 1981), Marcus and his team really have an eye for period milieu (impressive given Marcus is a born and bred Dubliner). Shaggy hair cuts, platform shoes, tank-tops and Brut 33 aftershave, all keep us firmly in the time of setting, while vintage vehicles, although in short supply because of the small budget, also give the film that vital 70s edge.
Performances are mixed, but lead lad Compston (Red Road) does a grand job of conveying a 17 year old guy in limbo. With a killer smile and a good helping of dexterity for the dance sequences, he's engaging and provides a characterisation that's easy to get on side with and follow through to the end. Burley (Donkey Punch) is under written in what is meant to be one of the main parts, but this does allow the lovely Felicity Jones (Cemetery Junction) to shine through and bounce of off Compston's energy to great effect. Parkinson (Control) is badly miscast as dance floor bully Alan, while a fledgling romance between Jo Hartley (This is England) and Pat Shortt (Garage) doesn't offer much to the plot, which is a shame since both are more than capable actors. Vladimir Trivic's photography leans more to grime than glitz, which actually serves the film well, sort of paying homage to the working class roots of the main players. The sound track, picked by the likes of Paul Weller, is excellent.
It's not all it can be, mainly because plotting and writing is too weak. But it has great moments of levity and vitality (watching those kids dance is a real treat), to ensure it's enjoyable and never dull. 7/10