Spike Island: film review

Spike Island – Film Review

Spike Island 2012
Director: Mat Whitecross
Writer: Chris Coghill

Spike Island – What the World is Waiting For?

The Stone Roses’ seminal Spike Island gig has become the stuff of legend – the atmosphere, the drugs, the poor sound quality, the coming together of a generation. It’s a surprise that no one’s attempted to capture the essence of it on the big screen before now. This film does all that, but it isn’t just a reconstruction of the historic concert. Directed by Mat Whitecross, this rite of passage story is less about The Stone Roses famous gig and more about being a teenager in the early nineties. The build-up to Spike Island and the day of the event itself provide the backdrop for this story of life in Manchester in 1990, but the gig itself only appears in the second half of the film.

Shadowcaster, a group of schoolboys (swaggering singer, more introverted creative guitarist – sound familiar?) are a band, and a gang. Elliott Tittensor plays the lead singer ‘Tits’, who is trying to cope with his ill father and living in the shadow of his ‘legend’ of a brother, while trying to record the band’s demo and get them noticed. The excitement and run-up to Spike Island provides an escape from their everyday life, a dream, and a turning point in their lives. With best mate and songwriter Dodge (Nico Mirallegro), they form the backbone of the band alongside their mates, bassist Little Gaz (Adam Long) and drummer Zippy (Jordan Murphy). Their other pal Penfold (Oliver Heald) doesn’t play any instrument but is part of the band’s rehearsals (a tribute to the Roses’ Cressa maybe?).

The five lads all have troubled backgrounds but apart from Tits and Penfold, you don’t get much more than a glimpse of their everyday lives. More time could have been given to each individual character and they could have all been developed more, but the film still works really well as it is. This is more of a magical mystery tour than a hard day’s night.

With The Stone Roses’ back catalogue to choose from, there is a concern early on in the film that the music is going to be relied on too heavily or used too literally – especially when you realise the love interest is called Sally. Does she wanna be adored…? Will she join the band and bang the drums…?
But fortunately The Stone Roses’ music is used sparingly and considerately. Fools Gold is a witty tribute to the band in their posturing prime and I am the Resurrection really does bring the film to life. Other songs are dropped in subtly or played in the background.

Some critics have suggested Spike Island is cliched – but this seems to miss the point. It’s about a group of 15-year-old lads in Manchester in 1990. At the time, the place was full of teenagers who’d heard the Roses and formed bands (a young Liam Gallagher was one of them). At the height or Madchester, there were hundreds of gangs of walking, talking cliches swaggering around with their flares on – to me the film just lovingly recreates this. The characters quoting Ian Brown and the Roses as their gospel is simply what happened at the time. Writer and actor Chris Coghill describes it as his ‘love letter to The Stone Roses and to Manchester in 1990′ and he’s got it pretty much spot on – right down to the posters on the stairs in Affleck’s Palace.

But Spike Island is more than just a nostalgia-fest. The film is funny – proper belly-laugh funny. Alongside the teenage knob and fart gags, there is some great well-observed humour. The Liverpool/Manc rivalry is dealt with brilliantly and Chris Coghill as Uncle Hairy threatens to steal the show. But the performance of the film is from Lesley Manville for her genuinely moving portrayal of Tits’ mum.

Even if you’d never heard of The Stone Roses, Spike Island would be an entertaining story of teenage life. But for fans of the band, it offers something extra – there are moments that will instantly bring back the atmosphere of their live shows or the first time you heard the debut album. It won’t be on general release until early 2013 when this year’s gigs will seem a distant memory, but Spike Island will bring it all back. A great portrayal of the early 90s and the buzz around one of the era’s best bands and its followers.

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  1. I can’t wait to see this film! How are the band represented in it? Archive clips? Do actors play them on stage at Spike Island (no actual footage ever released) or are they heard but not seen?

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