Ian Curtis and Debbie Woodruff 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 4 June 1976 they attend a Sex Pistols concert with Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Terry Mason, 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. 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 his client Corinne Lewis suffering a seizure. Unsatisfied with the brief mention Joy Division receives from television host Tony Wilson, 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, 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 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 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.