BFI London Film Festival 2012: ‘Spike Island’ review


The 90s were great, weren’t they? You had Oasis, Blur, Pulp, and of course The Stone Roses, who are given near mythical status in Mat Whitecross’ love letter to band frontman Ian Brown, in Spike Island (2012). A group of lads from Manchester spend their days rehearsing together in their unsigned band, covering their school in graffiti and listening to their favourite band, The Stone Roses. When they hear that their guitar heroes are performing on Spike Island, the boys try everything in their power to get into the gig.

The timing of Whitecross’ teenage drama could not be better, with the reunion of the Stone Rose (not to mention another two bands which helped defined the 90s music scene The Happy Mondays and The Inspiral Carpets). But as fortuitous as the timing is, it can’t save what is essentially a non-story. The idea of a group of teenagers, each with a plethora of home problems, doing everything they can to attend a gig just isn’t enough to warrant a film being made, especially when handled so tritely. Littered with the odd 90s phrases and casual references to Maggie Thatcher, it all feels too simplistic.

The director’s passion for the band rings clear throughout, but the artificial construction of a story worthy only of a Hollyoaks writer just doesn’t cut it. Each of the (all too many) characters are disappointingly underdeveloped with token sob stories of their plight to break away from their working class backgrounds. The worst of these is one tiresome and woefully ill-constructed plot regarding one of the boys, whose ex-military father suffers from post-traumatic stress and consequently burns his son’s band T-shirt – oh the horror. So, not only is Spike Island a film about unconvincingly portrayed 90s teens, it is teenage in its execution and portrayal.

These problems aside there are moments of enjoyment to be sporadically found. Most enjoyable is the way the actual gig has been handled. It bubbles with a festival atmosphere and an impressive crane shot that sweeps to the stage cutting to archive footage of the most important gig of the Stone Roses’ career. Strip away the abundance of needless material and at its core is a fun tale of teenage obsession, littered with the pangs and woes of youth. It is only when it attempts to make serious comments of what is was like growing “Up North” or trying to handle bigger emotional material that it falls short.

Some may wonder just who this film’s market is exactly; Stone Roses fans will only find the soundtrack enjoyable whilst younger audiences will be asking who the Stone Roses were. Whilst not tremendously unpleasant viewing, Spike Island is very forgettable fare and fans of the band would be wise to wait for the forthcoming Shane Meadows documentary, for something more substantial.

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Joe Walsh

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