Spike Island is an entertaining, albeit predictable, coming-of-age drama following the story of four ticketless friends desperate to find a way onto the eponymous island to see their heroes, The Stone Roses, put on the biggest performance of their career. Set mainly in Manchester during the early ‘90s, the film is rife with Madchester stereotypes of ‘mad fer it’ youths striving to follow in their idol’s footsteps and escape their mundane, working class upbringings – at least for a day.
For the most part, the cast provide strong, credible performances – particularly the aptly named Elliot Tittensor, who manages to greatly epitomise the swagger and confidence of the era in his role as Tits, the leader of the young group of protagonists. However, the inclusion of Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, who plays Tits’ love interest Sally, doesn’t quite seem to fit. Perhaps it’s her unconvincing northern accent that makes her seem out of place, as there’s a constant feeling that she’s much more suited to the Red Waste of Essos than the red-bricked backdrop of Manchester.
What ultimately disappoints about Spike Island is its unoriginal narrative and fairly two-dimensional characters. What should be a hard-hitting, emotional sequence involving Tits’ dad suffering from an illness, fails to pack the intended punch; feeling as though it has been included in a fairly futile attempt at affording the film some extra emotional weight. Amongst the clichéd story however, there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments – particularly during a hilarious sequence that pays homage to the Reese’s Pieces scene from E.T the Extra Terrestrial. Fans of The Stone Roses will also find something to adore in the soundtrack, which is packed full of the band’s classic hits.
However, just like fool’s gold, Spike Island flatters to deceive. The excellent music and some strong acting can’t cover up what is ultimately a fairly average film that, in terms of narrative at least, doesn’t really offer anything new.
Mat Whitecross’ Spike Island is a love letter from a generation to one of Britain’s most influential bands: The Stone Roses. In the film, we follow Gary ‘Tits’ Titchfield, played by Elliott Tittensor, and his friends/bandmates as they try to make the journey to the Roses’ now-infamous gig on Spike Island. But this is more than just a gig to these lads, this is a pilgrimage; because Manchester is the world and The Stone Roses is a religion. This film shows how a religion can both comfort you during dark times and distract you from what is really important.
Tits, Dodge, Zippy, Little Gaz and Penfold are a believable group of deprecating-yet-loving friends who are, in fact, in a band themselves: Shadow Castre. Inspired by the Roses’ ability to get out of the red-brick terraces and into national glory, all the boys want to do is get to the gig and somehow give their demo tape to their heroes – because this film, at its best, is about a generation wanting more than the 9-5 working class lifestyles of their parents, and The Stone Roses have proven that it’s possible.
Unfortunately, Spike Island is let down by its sub-plots. Running through the film is a typical teenage love triangle between Tits, Dodge and Sally, played by Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke, that is full of coming-of-age clichés. This, along with the red-brick rivalry with another local band, The Palaver, do create a few roll-your-eyes moments that dampen the impact of the rest of the film.
If you can see past the sometimes-cheesy story-lines, Spike Island is an impressively shot, energetic and funny coming-of-age film that can be enjoyed whether you’re a Roses fan or not.
by Gary Woodcock & Tom Woodcock