Culture: Film

Review: Spike Island


A few weeks back, we had the brilliant love poem that was Shane Meadows’ The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone. Now comes Spike Island, a coming-of-age film set around the band’s legendary concert in 1990 and a group of dreamers determined to get to the gig. This ia a film that has plenty of heart but ultimately lacks the punch in its delivery.

A group of five friends, living on an estate in Manchester have their own band and dream of breaking free of their surroundings and troubled lives to become like their idols, The Stone Roses. Hoping to give the band a demo tape at their gig on Spike Island, lead singer, Tits and his best friend, Dodge, the musical genius of the group, who is obsessed with not only perfection in the songs but a school girl called Sally, believe that if Ian Brown hears them, they will make it. So without a ticket, but a promise of being on the VIP guest list, the boys head to Widnes, a journey that could make or break of them.

I really wanted to like this film. I was a huge fan of Meadows’ documentary and so to see a drama about true fans getting to go to the band’s most infamous performance held so many possibilities. The trouble is, Chris Coghill’s script seems less interested in the fans’ passion for the band and more in creating a soap opera in which each character has a plot arc that’s mentioned and then seems to be forgotten.

So the boys all have their problems. Tits (yes, that’s his name) has a father who is dying and a brother who seems to have been away (probably in jail, but it’s never fully realised); his best friend Dodge writes the songs and produces the music, but seems so insecure he cannot speak to the prettiest girl in school, a woman that doesn’t even know he exists but knows that Tits does (sorry, it’s going to sound like a breast-obsessed review. Trust me, it’s not). Then we have another friend whose father has mental health issues and was in the army, beats his son up, is mentioned once or twice and then left at the wayside.

What then occurs is pure contrivance. The journey to the gig is not going to be an easy one and so everything you can possibly think of that can go wrong does. They go the wrong way, the van they are travelling in runs out of petrol, and so on. By having these plot devices, it makes the whole thing seem further and further from being truthful, which has the unfortunate effect of making you care less about the characters.

The cast of youngsters do a fine job with the material but when it’s not trying to be deep and purposeful, it’s delivering crude, schoolboy antics that The Inbetweeners manage to pull off far more successfullly.

Director Mat Whitecross is a talented young filmmaker, having previously given us the excellent docudrama The Road to Guantánamo and the Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll. Here he has a visual flair that sometimes works remarkably well, but at other times is annoying and confusing. He also seems to have forgotten who this film is aimed at. Is it those who lived through the early 90s and lived the Madchester life? Or a new teen audience who won’t understand the appeal of the band if they aren’t fans already?

The whole film feels like a jumble, full of potential but ultimately feeling, like the expression at the time, baggy. While the music is still great, the sentiment and the emotions are forced.

Words: Stuart Wren

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