Control is a 2007 black-and-white biopic film about the late Ian Curtis (1956–1980), lead singer of post-punk band Joy Division. The screenplay written by Matt Greenhalgh is based on the book Touching from a Distance, by Curtis's widow, Deborah, who is also a co-producer of the film. The film was directed by Dutch director Anton Corbijn. In the film, Ian Curtis is played by previously little-known actor Sam Riley. Samantha Morton plays Deborah, while Alexandra Maria Lara plays Annik, the woman with whom Curtis had an extramarital affair.
The film details the life of the troubled young musician, who forged a new kind of music out of the punk rock scene of the United Kingdom in the 1970s, and the band Joy Division, which he headed from 1977 to 1980. It also deals with his rocky marriage and extramarital affairs, as well as his increasingly frequent seizures, which were thought to contribute to the circumstances leading to his suicide on the eve of Joy Division's first U.S. tour. The title is a reference to the Joy Division song, "She's Lost Control"—believed to be a reference to an epileptic client befriended by Curtis while employed at a Job Centre in Macclesfield, who later died during a seizure.
The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, on 17 May 2007 where it was well received by critics, especially for Sam Riley's performance. The film was winner of the Director's Fortnight, the CICAE Art & Essai prize for best film, the Regards Jeunes Prize for best first/second directed feature film and the Europa Cinemas Label prize for best European film in the sidebar. It won five awards in the British Independent Film Awards, including "Best British Independent Film", "Best Director of a British Independent Film" for Corbijn and "Most Promising Newcomer" for Riley. It also won Best Film award in the Evening Standard British Film Awards for 2007. In 2008, writer Matt Greenhalgh won BAFTA's "Carl Foreman award for special achievement by a British director, writer or producer in their first feature film".
The film then follows Ian and Debbie attending a Sex Pistols gig in 1976 where he meets Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Terry Mason. All three members criticize their lead singer which leads Ian to approach the band at the end of the concert to suggest he become vocalist. This then leads the band to become Warsaw, recruiting Stephen Morris as drummer with Mason taking over managerial duties. The band then eventually plays their first gig with nervousness.
At this time Ian is working as a civil servant in Macclesfield and is given the opportunity to record a demo of the band to perform. This results in Ian and Debbie paying £400 to have the demo recorded but now under the new name Joy Division. The demo EP, An Ideal for Living, was recorded and sent to local music mogul Tony Wilson. The band watch Tony give a less-than-impressive mention of the EP on his television show, leaving them upset. Joy Division then attend a battle of the bands event at a bar where they impress everyone including Wilson and DJ Rob Gretton, who offers to manage the band and has a propensity of spewing profanity.
Tony Wilson then agrees to let the band perform on their TV show. The band perform "Transmission" with Ian's family watching at home. This performance then leads to Tony signing the contract with the band in his own blood.
The band then starts to tour with Ian starting to neglect his now-pregnant wife. Ian also keeps his job as a civil servant at the Employment Exchange. As he interviews a job seeker, she has an epileptic fit that leads him to write the lyrics for "She's Lost Control". The film's title, Control, derived from this song. Shortly after this, Ian suffers a similar fit while travelling from a gig and in the hospital, it is revealed that he has epilepsy. Ian tried to get in contact with the epileptic girl, but discovers she has died. Treatment for epilepsy at this time relied on trial and error with medications; those that Ian takes leave him drowsy and moody. The doctor recommends to Ian that he gets plenty of early nights and abstains from alcohol (both of which Ian ignores). Due to the medication and the late nights, Ian is becoming extremely tired at work. After a chat with his supervisor, Ian decides to resign from his role to pursue his musical career despite the more unsteady income. At this time, Debbie gives birth to a baby girl, Natalie, and is forced to take up work to make up the wages Ian has lost with his resignation.
Joy Division then travels to London for a gig where the band meets Annik Honoré, who wishes to interview the band for a Belgian music fanzine. After the rest of the band fall asleep Ian and Annik talk and Ian admits that he has been trying to leave his home town for a while and that his marriage was a mistake. The band then travel to France to do a tour where Ian and Annik start an affair. Debbie is initially unaware of the affair, but becomes suspicious when Ian admits he's unsure if he loves Debbie anymore. Whilst Ian is shooting the video for "Love Will Tear Us Apart" Debbie searches through the house for clues as to whether Ian is having an affair. She finds Annik's telephone number and calls her. Debbie confronts Ian who vows to break up the affair, which he doesn't do (despite calling her to say that he has). It is at this point that Rob informs the band that they will be touring America.
During a gig Ian has another epileptic fit. He is carried off stage and is comforted by Annik. With the pressure of his family, his affair, the band, and his epilepsy, Ian takes an overdose and collapses in his house. Before his collapse he writes a letter to Debbie saying that he loves Annik. Ian is then rushed to hospital and released a few days later. Joy Division are then due to perform a concert at Bury's "Derby Hall" where Ian is clearly unwell and walks off stage. Rob Gretton asks the lead of the support group, Alan Hempsall of Crispy Ambulance, to cover. Hempsall agrees, but this leads to a riot on stage. After the riot, Ian says to Tony that he feels everyone hates him and it's all his own fault.
Having left the marital home, Ian is forced to stay at various people's homes. Initially he stays at Rob's (with Annik in tow). Rob informs Debbie of Ian's whereabouts and Debbie tells Rob to let Ian know she wants a divorce. He then stays at Bernard's who tries hypnotherapy on Ian to see if this helps his thinking. Eventually he returns to his parents home and agrees to stay there until the American tour.
Two nights before the tour he decides to return home to talk to Debbie. He arrives home and watches Stroszek on television before Debbie arrives home. He begs Debbie to take him back and argues that his affair with Annik is an unrelated matter. Debbie brushes it off and then Ian orders her out of the house until the following day when he will "be gone". Alone in the house, Ian drinks large glasses of whiskey and plays Iggy Pop's The Idiot whilst writing a letter to Debbie. As he places it on the mantelpiece he has another seizure and collapses, unconscious. He regains consciousness early the following morning but is extremely weepy. He then walks into the kitchen where he sees a clothesline. Feeling depressed, lonely and possibly still drunk, he decides to end it all and hangs himself.
Later that day Debbie returns home and walks into the house. She then discovers Ian's body hanged in the kitchen (the actual scene of Curtis' body hanging is not shown) and runs out of the house in hysteria, holding Natalie as she cries "can someone help me". As Joy Division's "Atmosphere" plays, we see Rob Gretton, the remaining members of Joy Division and Stephen's girlfriend Gillian Gilbert in a pub staring silently and Tony Wilson and his wife Lindsay picking up, and consoling Annik at a train station. Church bells ring with very black smoke rising to the air from a crematorium. The message "Ian Curtis died May 18, 1980. He was 23 years old." appears on the screen. The screen then fades to black with "Atmosphere" still playing.
Control marks Corbijn's debut as a movie director, and he paid half of the €4.5 million budget out of his own pocket. The film was shot on colour stock and printed to black and white to "reflect the atmosphere of Joy Division and the mood of the era". Todd Eckert and Orian Williams are the producers. Deborah Curtis, Ian Curtis' widow, is a co-producer, along with music mogul Tony Wilson, who died months before the film's release. It had been Wilson who had given Joy Division their TV break on the local magazine programme Granada Reports, and he also founded Factory Records, which released most of Joy Division's work.
After the script for the film was finished in May 2005, the movie was filmed at the former Carlton studios in Nottingham, and on location in Manchester and Macclesfield, England, as well as other European venues. Filming began on July 3, 2006 and lasted for seven weeks. Filming in and around Barton Street (where Curtis lived and died), Macclesfield took place on July 11 and July 12, 2006. EM Media, the Regional Screen Agency for the East Midlands, invested £250,000 of European Regional Development Funds into the production of Control and supported the film throughout the shoot. Samantha Morton (Deborah Curtis) and Toby Kebbell (Rob Gretton) both studied at the Junior TV Workshop in Nottingham. Kebbell starred opposite Paddy Considine (who played Gretton in 24 Hour Party People) in Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes.
Ian Curtis' daughter, Natalie, was in the crowd as an extra for the Derby Hall gig.
At one point in the film, after Curtis suffers from an epileptic fit, the actor portraying Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbell) comments to him "At least you're not the lead singer in The Fall." Sam Riley had played Mark E. Smith, lead singer of The Fall, in the film 24 Hour Party People, but didn't make it into the final cut.
The Weinstein Company secured the rights to release the film in North America after its success at Cannes. The DVD was released in the U.K. on February 11, 2008, followed by the Australian DVD on March 12, 2008, and the North American DVD on June 3rd, 2008.
Motion Picture Association of America imposed the R (restricted) rating on the film, which advises film theatres to allow juveniles under 17 to view the film only under parental supervision, citing "language and brief sexuality".
Peter Bradshaw, the chief film reviewer for The Guardian, described Control as "the best film of the year: a tender, bleakly funny and superbly acted biopic of Curtis". American prominent film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a three and a half stars rating, out of four, and wrote that "The extraordinary achievement of Control is that it works simultaneously as a musical biopic and the story of a life.
Film review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes rated Control as "certified fresh" in its T-metric section, based on a wide array of critics, in which 86 of 98 critics reviewed the film positively. Metacritic reports the film as having an average score of 78 out of 100, based on 27 reviews, claiming the film had "generally favourable reviews".
However, some reviewers have disagreed and commented on the film negatively. Ray Bennett from Reuters remarked Control to be a "disappointment" and said the film "features lots of music from that time and has decent performances, but it fails to make the case for its fallen star".
Peter Hook and Stephen Morris, two former members of Joy Division, generally praised the film but have disputed its factual accuracy. Morris said of Control "None of it's true really," but acknowledged the need for bending some facts because "the truth is too boring". Hook made similar remarks, and criticized the preview audience's reaction, saying in the end "when it really hurt and everybody started clapping. It would've been nice to have a dignified silence".
The Killers cover the 1979 Joy Division song "Shadowplay" on the soundtrack. However, all live Joy Division performances in the film are performed by the actors. The actors contribute a cover of an original Joy Division song ("Transmission") to the soundtrack. Incidental tracks by 1970s artists like David Bowie and the Sex Pistols are the original recordings. New Order provided the original incidental music for the soundtrack. The Sex Pistols' track was omitted from the US version.