Spike Island, review
Shane Meadows, known for his exploratory directorial motives – often into the realms of British sub-cultures – released documentary The Stone Roses: Made of Stone in 2013. The feature was a look into the legendary Stone Roses gig that took place in May 1990. Similar to this, but non-fiction, director Mat Whitecross made, at the same time, Spike Island; a dramatised picture based on the same concert. An indie pic, the film features an ensemble cast, all of whom were relatively unknown at the time. Today – just two years on – we know Emilia Clarke as Game of Thrones’ Daenerys and Nico Mirallegro as My Mad Fat Diaries’ Finn. Small on budget (and even smaller on box-office takings), Spike Island is a whimsical tale of adolescent friendship, first time love, and a time in music that was pivotal within the British industry. It’s almost definitely a little hap-dash – some could even use the derogatory term flimsy – but if you too inhabit any kind of urgency to live life to the fullest (like the characters here do), Whitecross’s feature is the film for you.
The film takes place over the space of 72 hours, as a spectator you watch as a group of teenage lads attempt to attain tickets to the Spike Island ‘Stone Roses gig that took place in May 1990 in Widnes. The premise is simple, and the characters involved, including Elliott Tittensor as Tits, Jordan Murphy as Zippy, Adam Long as Little Gaz and Oliver Heald as Penfold encounter a number of diversions along their road to being gig-happy. In terms of narrative and script, its all very, very British, and perhaps a tad cliched. There isn’t much room for an American audience due to, one) the Manchester setting which means all actors involved talk in a strong accent that even people who don’t live ‘up North’ will struggle to understand, and two) the humour is based around a English wit that is hard to tap into unless you inhabit the UK. The Britishness of the feature is what makes it so strong, but this too is what limits its audience – the film took just under £100,000 at the box-office, likely due to a limited release. Though it’s an unappreciated – and barely seen – film, Spike Island isn’t a bad movie.
The group of male friends have a genuine chemistry, bouncing off of one another’s youthful energy, the atmospheric half hour at the gig is truly engaging, and director Whitecross genuinely manages to make those watching wish they could of been at that classic moment of music history. Spike Island will, for some people, sit on the brink of greatness. These people will likely be fans of The Stone Roses and might of even been to the gig, in this way the film serves as a zeitgeist of the time. Others will cast the film to one side, seeing it as yet another Brit comedy-drama that holds so many similar themes to a number of other movies of the genre. Despite the split that Spike Island likely creates amongst its audience, it should first be seen – and then, hopefully, be loved.