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SoulBoy Northern Soul movie 2010 - Review & background info

SoulBoy is a movie about the Northern Soul scene in Northern England in the 1970s, focusing particularly on the legendary Wigan Casino. It was released in 2010, directed by Shimmy Marcus, produced by Christine Alderson and stars Martin Compston, Felicity Jones and Nichola Burley.

I have to reveal that I have a special interest in this film: I wanted to make a Northern Soul movie myself, but they have beat me to it and I have to admit, done a much better job than I could have done!

Here's a link to my article about my planned Northern Soul flim.

I am a fan of Northern Soul. I never went to the Wigan Casino, but I experienced it at the teeny disco at the Scout's Den, around 1974. In 2006 I started listening to Richard Searling's Soul Sauce on Sooth FM, later Smooth Radio. Hearing the music inspired me to visualise a film about the Northern Soul scene in the 1970s.

I believe that creative people working independently often think along parallel lines and I think that's true in this case, because there are parallels between my film idea and the SoulBoy movie.

My film would be set in 1974. SoulBoy is too.

I imagined arriving at the Wigan Casino and looking up to see the famous illuminated sign. SoulBoy has this, though my sign is reflected in a puddle!

In mine there would be a love triangle, two guys and a girl. In SoulBoy two girls and a guy.

In mine there would be scenes of the frantic buying and selling of records - the same is in SoulBoy.

There would be a fantastic soundtrack with some of the best Northern Soul tracks - that too is in SoulBoy, though an entirely different set of records to mine.

In mine the character stares into the water of the canal, in SoulBoy also.

In mine there are scenes in the boy's bedroom with the girl and the mother. So too in Soulboy

My film would have an Irish character - the boy's mother. In SoulBoy there is an Irish character: Brendan, played by Pat Shortt.

There would be a wonderful sense of the atmosphere of Northern England in the seventies. SoulBoy has captured this to an extent.

So does SoulBoy achieve what I wanted to achieve with my Northern Soul movie?

Yes, I think it does, and more. In SoulBoy there is a harder edge than my more romantic idea, with graphic representation of drug taking and violence.

The makers of SoulBoy had the co-operation of DJ Russ Winstanley, founder of the Wigan Casino in 1973.

And now for some important questions to be asked with a film such as this:

Does the film give an accurate representation of the era that's true in spirit and in detail?

Can the film sum up the drama, atmosphere and excitement of that forgotten world from 35+ years ago?

Will the film only appeal to Northern Soul aficionados or will it bring in a wider audience?

Can the young cast playing the roles of the characters capture the look and mannerisms of the era?

Can they also master the gymnastic Northern Soul dance moves?

Can the film break through to become a modern classic? Another West Side Story or Grease?

The story of the characters takes place against the backdrop of the Northern Soul scene. Is the story engaging enough in its own right?

Drama, atmosphere and excitement

My answer to the first question is a definite yes, or at least I think so. Like the director, I never went to the Wigan Casino, but from what I know about it, all the details seem to be accurate. I loved the way they interspersed the well-known sole surviving Granada documentary footage from the Wigan Casino into the action of the film. I couldn't tell which was the docu and which was the SoulBoy set. The dance hall chosen to represent the Wigan Casino looked to me virtually the same as the now demolished original building.

In my opinion, SoulBoy really does capture a sense of the mid-1970s, a formative era for me - I was 16 in 1974. The cars, the buses, the interiors, the clothes, the general sense of drabness, as compared to today, all that was captured very well. The only problem for me is that there wasn't enough of it. I wish that whole world, with lots of outdoor street scenes, could be brought to life again, but that's not possible in a low budget flim!

As for the drama, atmosphere and excitement, I think they captured that very well too, particularly the fanaticism and devotion of the fans. I have my own impressions of the time that perhaps weren't represented in the film, but every individual will have a unique view.

The movie SoulBoy could potentially appeal to a wider audience than just fifty-something Northern Soul fans like myself. Particularly today's younger generation if they're curious to look beyond the surface and discover the earliest roots of today's dance scene. Whether the film can break through remains to be seen. I hope it can.

I was concerned that the hair, make up and fashions portrayed in the film might not look authentic, but they do, from the blow-dried hairstyle of Russ, which was virtually identical to that worn by schoolmates of mine, to the hair and make-up of Felicity Jones' character Mandy. She reminded me very strongly of an ex-girlfriend from those years! Uncanny! If only we could also experience the perfumes and aftershaves of the time!

The cast also managed to capture that particularly 'bouncy' way of dancing, flared trousers flapping, arms swaying, that 'just so' pose. The gymnastic movements looked right to me too.

All in all the makers of the film went to a lot of trouble to give an true-to-life portrayal. It really did seem like a window onto the 1970s. And incidentally they shot on film, which I think contributed towards achieving the right look.

A modern classic?

Will SoulBoy go on to be a modern classic? That remains to be seen. Audiences decide on the success of a film, but marketing and distribution also have a big influence.

The film started out on limited release, but due to popular demand, its showings have been extended. That's just great.

Intriguingly for me, there is an Irish connection to SoulBoy. Director Shimmy Marcus is from Dublin. I studied at Trinity College Dublin between 1976 and 1981. It was originally to have been shot in Dundalk, but the location was moved, more fittingly, to Stoke-on-Trent. The Irish Film Board appears in the film credits though not on the website.

SoulBoy achieves pretty much everything I wanted from my own Northern Soul flim idea, and more. It's a wonderful, entertaining, nostalgic, informative piece of cinema that opens a window onto a forgotten and often misunderstood era. It is a fantastic achievement and I wholeheartedly recommend it!

The official SoulBoy website is www.soulboythefilm.com

SoulBoy article on the Irish Film & Television Network

sample of Northern Soul 45rpm records

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2010-09-11

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