HONESTLY, I thought I would hate it. Sitting down to watch England is Mine at last month’s Edinburgh International Film Festival the Smiths fan in me was prepped for the worst. So the first thing to say about Mark Gill’s new film about Morrissey in the years before he met Johnny Marr is that it isn’t terrible.

That’s an achievement in itself. More than that, though, it’s a film that – like Jack Lowden’s performance as Morrissey – grows into itself, that finds its voice the longer it goes on. By the end it’s a film that holds a real sorrowful ache and weight. It’s modest but potent; a depiction of depression and a bookish, passive-aggressive outsider trying to find his way in the world.

And that’s the film’s other gift. It gives us back Morrissey in a way. It rescues him from the tabloid headlines and Blimpish outbursts that mark the man at this point in the 20th century. It takes us back to the man who wrote those early lyrics; lyrics that were by turns sly, strange, unique.

And funny, Mark Gill says. “I had never heard anything like them. I had never heard a record that made me laugh before.”

Gill knew that making the film was something of a risk. It would be easy to alienate the Morrissey fan base with an unauthorised film. He has certainly annoyed some Morrissey acolytes. The singer’s friend James Maker has been outspoken in his criticism. “Morrissey’s mother should sue the filmmakers on their misrepresentation of her curtaining, alone,” he has written, which, to be fair, has a Morrissey-esque wit to it.

“I’m not risk-averse though,” Gill says when asked if he had any fears of being judged by the family of Smiths fans. “If I gave that any consideration I would never have made the film. I wanted to make a film with humour and pathos and struggle and tragedy and everything that’s in those records. If I could just make people feel in any way a modicum of how it feels to listen to one of those records it’s a success.”

Gill grew up in Stretford a few streets away and a few years behind Morrissey. When he first heard the Smiths in his mid-teens he says, “it completely changed my life. I was a teenager struggling to find my way, trying to work out what I wanted to do and that music just spoke to me.

“I just don’t think I had heard anything like it. I wasn’t a back bedroom casualty. I was out and about playing football and stuff. But I always felt like I could do something more. My parents were very ambitious for me. I grew up in a working-class area but I went to a grammar school. So in that respect I was slightly alienated from my friends who went to the comprehensive.

“It’s probably in that period that the Smiths came in. That struggle to fit.”

Gill went on to be a musician himself. He even played guitar with Peter Hook in the band Monaco for a while.

Now he is a film-maker and England is Mine is his calling card. It’s a film about Steven, not Morrissey, he points out. It’s about the young man before he was a singer, before he had found his voice. “I wanted to make a film, not a music biopic,” Gill says.

“Once I started researching his life it very quickly for me became about a young kid drowning in a world that he doesn’t belong in. More importantly, it became about strong women,” he says, referring to Morrissey’s mother and good friend Linder Sterling (played in the film by Jessica Brown Findlay).

“And then I thought this film can be about more than just Morrissey. It can be about anybody. And I thought that’s a better film. Trying to make something of your life in a world that wants to make you like everyone else. I thought that’s a more universal story. It just happens that he goes on to be an icon.”

Morrissey did become iconic, of course, and part of that was about was the way he articulated a different vision of masculinity. In Morrissey’s lyrics you could see a vision of the male that wasn’t hyper-masculine.

“He definitely gave you an access point to your feminine side,” suggests Gill. But there was strength alongside the shyness, he believes. “For somebody who is shy and retiring there’s steel in there,” Gill suggests. “There’s a real set of bollocks.”

He stops and thinks and laughs. “That’s one thing I never thought I’d say.”

England is Mine goes on general release next week. Look out for an interview with Jessica Brown Findlay in Saturday’s Herald Magazine.