Festival gem: Spike Island

Emerging British director Mat Whitecross delivers a heartfelt coming-of-age drama set against the backdrop of a legendary Stone Roses gig.

Paul O’Callaghan
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What’s it about?

It’s May 1990, and on a red-brick housing estate in the Manchester suburbs, five teenage boys dream of indie-rock stardom. They hatch a plan to hand-deliver a demo tape to their idols The Stone Roses at the band’s impending gig at Spike Island in Cheshire. But when their tickets fail to materialise, the lads are forced to take extreme measures to sneak their way in.

Who made it?

Mat Whitecross made his name as co-director of docudrama The Road to Guantanamo, a collaboration with Michael Winterbottom which won the pair a best director award at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival. His solo debut feature Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2009) is an imaginative biopic of rock star Ian Dury, featuring a compelling lead performance by Andy Serkis. Whitecross has also directed a number of music videos for Coldplay.

Screenwriter Chris Coghill is better known as a TV actor, particularly for his roles in Eastenders and Shameless. He made a memorable appearance as Happy Mondays dancer Bez in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People (2000).

What’s special about it?

More than just a dose of nostalgia for those who grew up listening to The Stone Roses, Spike Island will strike a chord with anyone whose worldview was expanded after seeing their favourite band as a teenager. A climactic scene set to the sound of the Roses’ ‘I Am the Resurrection’ is gloriously uplifting. Beyond this, the film has something to say about the integral role music can play in establishing one’s identity as a young adult. It is also refreshingly nonjudgmental in its portrayal of youth culture. The protagonists are allowed to misbehave and indulge in hedonism without suffering horrible consequences, as is so often the case in teen dramas.

What critics are saying

Fionnuala Halligan, Screen Daily:

This vibrant, attractive piece… deserves a wider outing than cult. Spike Island has a very clear, authentic sense of time and place, leading to many memorable moments that help it stand out from the genre crowd.

Kevin Harley, Total Film:

For pop mythologists, The Stone Roses’ 1990 Spike Island show defined a generation… For others, it might have been better if the crap sound weren’t so prey to each stray wind. Whitecross and writer Chris Coghill’s serio-comic coming-of-ager contains youth-pic clichés and plotting choppier than the Roses’ volume, but it also cannily probes that myth/reality gulf and, crucially, shows how Spike Island was about the kids (man) rather than the concert.

Charles Gant, Variety:

As the hours count down to the big night, wittily rendered with captions that appear variously on a spinning record or a license plate, the film successfully evokes the drugs, sounds, haircuts and sportswear-influenced wardrobe of the early 1990s, as well as the highly specific, swaggering gait of the region’s young males.

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