A Shameless piece of nostalgia from the man who bought you Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.
Manchester. So much to answer for. A coming-of-age tale set around a trip to a 1990 gig by The Stone Roses, Spike Island is the latest big-screen number to be dug out of the seemingly bottomless pit of tales to be told about the Mancunian music scene 1978-1992.
Being a simple tale of 72 hours in the lives of five lads — Tits, Dodge, Zippy, Little Gaz and Penfold — and the lessons they learn in their desperate quest to go see The Roses at Spike Island, a concert about which many myths have emerged, this film being the latest.
For the uninitiated The Stone Roses were, for the briefest moment, the Great White Hope of the British music industry, on the back of one album that managed to sound both firmly locked in the past whilst offering a glimpse of the future. This and the band’s enigmatic pronouncements on revolution, all backed up with the sort of Mancunian swagger that was the template for many bands that would come later, garnered The Roses a dedicated following of the sort personified by our five heroes.
Along their way to Spike Island laughs are had, drugs are taken with the happy recklessness of youth, family ties are broken and mended and friendships are put to the test.
For director Mat Whitecross this is the follow-up to Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, his frank biopic of Ian Dury, while writer Chris Coghill worked on television series Shameless (to which Spike Island bears most resemblance) and 24 Hour Party People, Michael Winterbottom’s anarchic telling of self-proclaimed Mancunian legend, Tony Wilson.
Spike Island lacks the broad appeal of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, where the relationships between Dury, his father and his son were just as important as the story of the music, and lacks the sheer force of 24 Hour Party People, in which Winterbottom turned a parochial tale of a niche record label and its megalomaniac boss into something unique and intriguing.
Here however, the relationships are a bit too signposted – particularly that of Tits (Shameless‘s Elliot Titensor), his dying dad and hero-worshipped elder brother, and the love triangle that forms between Tits, Dodge (Nico Mirallegro from TV’s most recent Upstairs Downstairs) and Sally (Game of Thrones’s Emilia Clark).
That said the cast gives it everything and are uniformly convincing as a tight-knit gang of mates, although they pale whenever Lesley Manville gets screen time as mum-of-Tits.
Particular mention must go to Jordan Murphy and Adam Long as Zippy and Little Gaz respectively, for whom this is a first acting gig.
The presence of Titensor, one of Shameless‘s Gallagher boys, can’t help but bring to mind Tony Abbott’s long-running comedy-drama. Spike Island is full of ducking-and-diving, fiercely Mancuanian Mancunians, a broad range of caricatures.
Initially conceived as an episode of a proposed TV show, Spike Island could easily have stayed on the small screen. But this was pushed onward as it is a project personal to writer Coghill – a love letter to a band, a time and a place, and the warmth radiated just about wins over any cold cynicism.
For Spike Island is a period drama, replete with Adidas three-stripe trainers and bowl haircuts, and as shameless (Shameless?) an exercise in nostalgia as The Stone Roses’ own comeback.
For those who were there, many of whom will be digging out the beach hats and Joe Bloggs jeans again this time round,Spike Island will offer a warm hug of good vibes. Anyone who’s ever danced saucer-eyed in a field or seen a festival’s perimeter fence as one of life’s key challenges, may also find some comforting familiarities.
Others may see only a thinly-veiled, unnecessary hagiography dressed up as soft soap. All those views are correct. As The Stone Roses singer, Ian Brown, once put it (although he appropriated from Eric B & Rakim): It’s not where you’re from that counts, it’s where you’re at.