Michael Winterbottom’s latest film is a rockumentary that blends documentary and drama with serenity and lashings of deep, dark rock from Wolf Alice. 

“She inhabits only the present tense…a world of sensual immediacy as without hope as it is without despair.”

Taking their name from Angela Carter’s anthology of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, altrock band Wolf Alice absorb the very same gothic qualities that Carter sought to portray in her character. Their unique sensuality is the subject of the latest film from BAFTA winning director, Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, The Look of Love).

In On The Road, Winterbottom follows the band around the UK as they trip from place to place on tour to promote their debut album, My Love Is Cool. Interspersed within the very real narrative of their tour is the fictional relationship between Scottish roadie, Joe (James McArdle) and photographer, Estelle (Leah Harvey).

Winterbottom’s hybrid docudrama was surely a difficult concept to grapple with at drawing board stage, but it never comes across as such on the screen. Instead, his film has something uniquely mesmerising about it. It moves along with a slow plod, dimly lit shots give the film a socialist-realist feel that has something more akin to cinéma-vérité than to what is essentially a concert film.

We’ve been inundated with the style in its various squirm-inducing forms recently from Katy Perry to One Direction, but Winterbottom’s capturing of the group on stage captures the captivating  and deeply sensual performative character of the band. Frontman, Ellie Rowsell, in a silky slip nightie with tousled hair and smudged make up perfectly fits Carter’s description: “Although the dress was torn and crumpled, it was so white…In the mirror, she saw how this white dress made her shine.”

Rowsell’s irreverent, unyieldingly nonchalant character is a pleasure, intriguing to watch as she interacts with the fictional characters and her Wolf Alice band mates, Joff Oddie, Joel Amey and Theo Ellis. “[She] looked at herself in the mirror…the serene, inviolable one in her absolute…innocence,” the description fits her well.

A strange balance is struck between the band’s seemingly laid-back vibe and their on-stage rock sound. The band’s music takes up a good amount of the film, with the additional dramatic narrative largely coming from the love story that develops between our two fictional characters, Joe and Estelle, as they discover how repetitive and unglamorous life on the road can be. They are supported by a welcome, if all too short, interlude from the ever-captivating Shirley Henderson as Joe’s estranged mother.

On the Road is a musically exceptional film with rousing performances by the band, and a sense of intrigue that’ll convert you to fandom if you weren’t already. It seamlessly blends fact with fiction, and music with drama, yet it has no specific point to make, no raison-d’etre; it is anticlimactic and monotonous, but that’s part of the magic.

On the Road is released on 29 September. 

★★★★☆