Spike Island

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There is a great film to be made about the whole Madchester/Stone Roses/Acieed moment of the late 1980s but Spike Island isn’t it. Fun but messy might be a fair way to assess it. Fatally flawed might be another.

This is a film clearly going for epic. It wants to be the Apocalypse Now of a particular youthquake, with a basic “journey” structure – four lads in a wannabe band are trying to get to Spike Island, scene of the Stone Roses’ most famous gig, a night that defined/ended an era. Onto this is grafted the story of the band itself, its attempts to record a demo, get it to the Stone Roses, maybe get a record deal. And springing off that we have the story of Tits (Elliott Tittensor), I kid you not, the band’s lead singer/leader, a supposedly charismatic teenager, a gob on a stick. And hanging off that story we have this guy’s coming to terms with the fact that his dad is dying. Plus his attempt to get off with a local hottie, Sally (Emilia Clarke, of Game of Thrones fame). And his strained relations with his flaky brother. And I didn’t mention the rivalry with a bigger local band (whose lead singer, played by Being Human’s Michael Socha, is clearly aping Liam Gallagher and is very funny).

Emilia Clarke and Elliott Tittensor
Emilia Clarke and Elliott Tittensor

A lorra lorra plot then. Flavour is this film’s real strong suit. It’s got loads of it, and whenever the camera wanders away from the underwritten Unfab Four, things really kick into life. Scenes set in pubs, outside the perimeter fence at Spike Island, among peripheral characters, who have names like Dave Famous, Keith Teeth and Uncle Hairy, all crackle with the sort of electricity that only those who were really there, who still walk with feet at ten to two, can provide.

Most notable of these is a great scene where the lads arrive at the gate to the gig and try to get the bouncers to let them in. It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s full of banter and the two guys who play the Scouse bouncers (Jake Abrahams is one, I think, and if anyone can help with the other…) give a glimpse of what this film could and should have been – lively, lairy, mad for it.

Had Hollywood got hold of this, for sure it would have squeezed some of the juice and swagger out of it, and it probably would have added subtitles for key moments of unintelligible Mancunian banter, but it would also have insisted on a rewrite to correct a severe plot problem. The film keeps telling us that this story’s hero is Tits. In fact it’s the other guy, the band’s songsmith Dodge (Nico Mirallegro), a shy musical obsessive with a secret passion for the lovely Sally. It’s Dodge’s story that this film should be telling. And it looks as if writer Chris Coghill realised it halfway through shooting. Hence that strange scene once everyone is on Spike Island with their heroes still out of reach where Dodge’s hitherto blameless character is besmirched and he is effectively banished from the action. Wha?

It’s tasty, but there’s nothing in the centre of this donut of a movie. For people who were there, who are now more cheese and bics than E’s and whizz, Spike Island will ding a few dongs, raise a few smiles, lift hairs on the arm as the Roses soundtrack takes them trippily back in time. As for everyone else, those great one-liners, delivered in that flat Manc deadpan, probably won’t be quite enough.

Spike Island – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2012

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