Sam Riley and Samantha Morton star as Ian and Deborah Curtis, and the film portrays the events of the couple's lives from 1973 to 1980, focusing on their marriage, the formation and career of Joy Division, Ian's struggle with epilepsy, and his extramarital affair with Belgian journalist Annik Honoré, culminating in his May 1980 suicide. Alexandra Maria Lara plays Honoré, while James Anthony Pearson, Joe Anderson, and Harry Treadaway play Sumner, Hook, and Morris, respectively. The film also features Toby Kebbell as band manager Rob Gretton and Craig Parkinson as Tony Wilson.
Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) and Debbie Woodruff (Samantha Morton) marry in 1975 in their home town of Macclesfield at ages 19 and 18, respectively. Ian retreats from domestic life, preferring to write poetry in solitude. On June 4, 1976 they attend a Sex Pistols concert with Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson), Peter Hook (Joe Anderson), and Terry Mason (Andrew Sheridan), who are starting a band. Mesmerized by the concert, Ian volunteers to be their singer. They name themselves Warsaw, and Terry moves into a managerial role with the addition of drummer Stephen Morris (Harry Treadaway). The band debuts 19 May 1977 and soon rename themselves Joy Division. Ian and Debbie finance their first EP, An Ideal for Living (1978).
During his job as an employment agent, Ian witnesses a seizure suffered by Corinne Lewis (Nicola Harrison). Unsatisfied with the brief mention Joy Division receives from television host Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson), Ian demands that he put the band on his programme. In April 1978 Joy Division plays a battle of bands, impressing Tony and Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbell), who becomes their new manager. They perform "Transmission" on Tony's programme and sign to his Factory Records label; Tony signs the contract using his own blood.
In December 1978 Ian suffers a seizure on the way back from the band's first London gig; He is diagnosed with epilepsy and prescribed medications that leave him drowsy and moody. Learning that Corinne Lewis has died of a seizure, he pens "She's Lost Control" about her. He begins to neglect Debbie, who gives birth to their daughter Natalie in April 1979. Ian quits his job to go on tour, leaving Debbie to work and care for the baby.
Ian admits to Belgian journalist Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara) that he is miserable at home and considers his marriage a mistake. The two begin having an affair during Joy Division's January 1980 European tour. On returning home, Ian tells Debbie he is unsure if he still loves her. During the rehearsing of "Love Will Tear Us Apart", Rob informs the band that they will be departing 19 May for a tour of the United States. Debbie finds evidence of Ian's infidelity and confronts him. He promises that the affair is over, but continues to see Annik during the recording of Closer in Islington.
Ian suffers a seizure mid-performance and is comforted by Annik, who admits she is falling in love with him. He attempts suicide by overdosing on phenobarbital but doctors save his life. He continues to perform, but is exhausted by the strain and overwhelmed by the audience's expectations. At a performance at the Derby Hall the stress proves too much and he is unable to go onstage. The audience riots when Alan Hempstall (Joseph Marshall) of Crispy Ambulance steps in to cover for Ian, and the gig is ruined. Ian tells Tony that he believes everyone hates him and that it is his own fault. When Debbie learns that Ian is still seeing Annik, she demands a divorce. Bernard attempts to use hypnotherapy on Ian, who then goes to stay with his parents. He writes to Annik admitting his fear that his epilepsy will eventually kill him, and confesses that he loves her.
On 17 May 1980, two nights before Joy Division is due to depart for America, Ian returns home and begs Debbie not to divorce him. When she refuses, he angrily orders her out of the house. After drinking alone and writing Debbie a letter, he has another seizure. Regaining consciousness the following morning, he hangs himself from the Sheila Maid in the kitchen. Debbie discovers his body and staggers into the street, crying for help. The news of Ian's death leaves the remaining Joy Division members stunned, while Tony consoles Annik. Ian's body is cremated.Sam Riley as Ian Curtis, the main figure in the film and the vocalist of Joy Division. Riley was relatively unknown before the film, and the director initially considered Cillian Murphy for the role, but later changed his mind because he viewed Murphy as "a little shorter than Ian".
Samantha Morton as Deborah Curtis, wife of Ian Curtis, whom she marries at a very young age but later in the film develops discord with her husband due to his affair with Annik. The film itself is based on Deborah's memoir on the experience with Ian Curtis and Joy Division. Though Morton dislikes biopics, she said Control was different in that she was personally a fan of Joy Division, and likes Deborah's book as well as Corbijn's photography.
Alexandra Maria Lara as Annik Honoré, a journalist from Belgium and employee of the Belgian embassy. She has an affair with Ian Curtis after interviewing the band, exacerbating the tension between Ian and Deborah.
Joe Anderson as Peter Hook, the bass player of Joy Division.
Toby Kebbell as Rob Gretton, the manager of the band, succeeding Terry Mason. Kebbell provides humour and a lighter angle to the film.
Craig Parkinson as Tony Wilson, the owner of the Factory Records company that distributes Joy Division's recordings.
James Anthony Pearson as Bernard Sumner, the band's guitarist and keyboardist.
Harry Treadaway as Stephen Morris, the drummer and percussionist of Joy Division.
Andrew Sheridan as Terry Mason, the manager of the band before the arrival of Rob Gretton. (However, he still stays tour manager)
Robert Shelly as Twinny, the roadie of the band.
Matthew McNulty as Nick Jackson, Ian's high school friend, his real name was Tony Nuttall, but he didn't give a permission to Anton Corbijn to use his name.
Ben Naylor as Martin Hannett, producer and co-founder of Factory Records with Tony Wilson.
John Cooper Clarke as himself, a British performance poet who composes punk style works. In the film he performed his poem "Evidently Chickentown" in a re-creation of a 1970s concert.
Lotti Closs as Gillian Gilbert, Stephen Morris' girlfriend.
Herbert Grönemeyer portrays a Public GP in a cameo.
Richard Bremmer as Kevin Curtis, Ian's father.
Corbijn had been a devout Joy Division fan since the band's early days in the late 1970s. After moving to England, he befriended the band and shot several pictures for NME, which boosted his career as a photographer. Some of his pictures taken are featured in the movie. He also directed the music video for the 1988 rerelease of "Atmosphere". He said that the film overlapped with his own life in some ways. "I had moved to England to be close to that music at the time, and I was very into Joy Division. I worked with them, took pictures of them that became synonymous with their music, and I was forever linked. Then eight years after [Ian Curtis'] death, I did the video for "Atmosphere." So in other people's eyes I was always connected with them."
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 film was shot at the former Carlton studios in Nottingham, and on location in Nottingham, Manchester and Macclesfield, England, as well as other European venues. Filming began on 3 July 2006 and lasted for seven weeks. Filming in and around Barton Street (where Curtis lived and died), Macclesfield took place on 11 and 12 July 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.
The final scene of the film is shot in the exact position where Ian Curtis's memorial stone is located in Macclesfield with the camera panning out to reveal the crematorium which can be seen directly from his memorial.
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 11 February 2008, followed by the Australian DVD on 12 March 2008, and the North American DVD on 3 June 2008.
The film grossed $8.9 million worldwide.
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". Prominent American 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."
Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports a 87% approval rating with an average rating of 7.4/10 based on 110 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "Control is a work of art, thanks to its evocative black and white cinematography and sensational performances from Sam Riley and Samantha Morton. Even those not familiar with Joy Division can still appreciate the beauty of the film." 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 of the founding members of Joy Division, generally praised the film. However, Morris has disputed its accuracy, saying "None of it's true really" but acknowledged the need to bend facts because "the truth is too boring". Hook criticised the preview audience's reaction, saying how at the end of the film "it really hurt and everybody started clapping. It would've been nice to have a dignified silence".
Hook also remarked that "Control is a hell of a lot more accurate than 24 Hour Party People. You can tell that Anton knew us, and he knew us well and he took the original script, which was very English and quite subtly he made it deeper and have a broader appeal so that it would not just make sense to an English audience but to an international audience."
After viewing the film at Cannes, Hook said he "knew it was a great film and that it would be very well received because, even though it's two hours long, only two people went to the toilet the whole time. In fact, one of them was Bernard [Sumner]. The other one was a 70-year-old woman."
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, Kraftwerk and Buzzcocks are the original recordings. New Order provided the original incidental music for the soundtrack.