Music biopics follow a standard pattern: young, fresh-faced talented lad meets others, they start a band, and are ignored by the mainstream as they enviously watch those who have made it. Then they get their big break, followed by fame, money and audiences full of groupies, as wives watch in pain. Then the quarrels. The drugs. The break-ups.
Control bears no relation to this template. It’s the account of the short, agonised life of Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, the 1980s punk band, and the audience spends a great deal of time within the character, being Ian.
Riley imbues the role of Curtis with great truth, insight and vulnerability. His wife Debbie (SamanthaMorton) watches her husband retreat into himself and tries in vain to reconnect with him. Ian is a poet, his head full of tormented ideas that become the lyrics of Joy Division.
Framing everything is Ian’s epilepsy. People with grand mal epilepsy rarely see seizures, so I was a bit nervous about watching my first one on a giant screen.
After Ian’s first grand mal, another band member says helpfully: ”I thought only spackers did that.”
From then on, the film conveys a sense of fear that he might seize at any moment. The band’s backdrop looks like a giant brain scan. As he sings, Ian dances frenetically and closes his eyes, always looking as though he’s about to succumb.
Control is of huge benefit to people with epilepsy. As a hidden disability, it has little profile. People who have seizures on the street continue to terrify the population. Control gets the issue out there.
• Clair Chapwell has had epilepsy since she was 14