Music Films That Document the British Music Scene

These films document real music scenes of Britain. 24 Hour Party People shows Manchester’s music scene of the Hacienda and Factory Records days, Control documents the life and death of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis and Sid and Nancy offers a portrayal of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his relationship with both drugs and girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

music films

24 Hour Party People

This 2002 film about Manchester’s music scene, particularly that revolving around Factory Records, combines true information as well as rumours and myths of the time. Steve Coogan plays Tony Wilson and the film largely follows him and his career, which leads him to a number of influential Manchester bands including Joy Division and the Happy Mondays.

There are several cameos in the film including Tony Wilson himself, Howard Devoto of the Buzzcocks, Mark E. Smith of The Fall and Dave Haslam. Filmed in Manchester and often cutting to footage of videos of concerts of the time, the film won an award at the 2002 British Independent Film Awards. Widely acclaimed for it’s representation of the famed Manchester music scene, the film documents incidents from the punk era to the “Madchester” scene.


The title of the film is taken from the Joy Division song “She’s Lost Control”. Filmed in black and white, Control is a biographical film about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Control stars Sam Riley, frontman of 10,000 things, and Samantha Morton.

The film was based on Curtis’ widow Deborah’s book Touching From a Distance, and she also co-produced the film. Documenting Curtis’s life through the 70s, the film shows their relationship beginning and developing, the formation of Joy Division, his epilepsy and ultimately, his death.

Sid and Nancy

Sid and Nancy follows the store of Sex Pistol’s bassist Sid Vicious and his relationship with Nancy Spungen. Released in 1986 it stars Gary Oldham as Sid and Chloe Web as Nancy. Critics tended to view the film favourably, however John Lydon, frontman of the Sex Pistols, writes in his autobiography that the film is “the lowest form of life” and that he wasn’t consulted about the film at all.

british music

Regardless of acclaim or criticism, the film documents a side of the music scene that deals heavily with drugs and depression, and won awards at the National Society of Film Critics Awards and at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival.

The three films described in this article offer an insight into the British music scene, whether biographical, fictional or dramatised truth.

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