Manchester, red bricks, mass unemployment and a refusal to accept that life just has to be grim up North – this film may be set during Thatcher’s rule but it is also set during the reign of The Stone Roses. We are introduced to a gang of young rascals by the protagonist “Tits”. Tits addresses the audience directly and mirrors the introduction to the similarly Manchester-based series Shameless in this aspect. Indeed, many of the cast are recognisable from British television – the cast of Misfits, Downton Abbey, and Hollyoaks all take up positions as future stars.
The boys are in a band, Shadowcaster, in homage to their idols The Stone Roses. As time ticks by, the audience realise that every hour is building up to the life-changing moment (and genuine gig) of The Stone Roses performing at Spike Island on 27th May 1990. But none of them have tickets! Thus begins a whirlwind, hare-brained adventure that involves stealing cars, hiding in the undercarriages of coaches and using dinghies to traverse the Mersey. Some events ring true to life and one certainly would have been terrified driving down the motorway full of thousands of cars loaded with “pocketfuls of Es and speed” with I Am the Resurrection blaring.
The film unfolds around the back stories of life in working-class Britain. Tits’ father lies dying in hospital, and the other boys too have their own secret hardships – an alcoholic mother, abusive ex-servicemen dad, unrequited love, a disappearing brother… Their only chance of escape, in this bildungsroman, is Spike Island. The phrase “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at” is bandied about and the film ends with the boys becoming men after a series of highs and lows. There are scenes some might find clichéd, like the eventual romantic clinch being met with fireworks.
This is too much of a feel good film to truly register the gritty realities of working class lifestyle – really a light-hearted take on events – and very few of the characters are totally developed, rendering some interchangeable. While many films are based upon obsessions with music (Quadrophenia to The Who, Christiane F to Bowie) this one feels like how Channel 4’s Skins would envisage a jolly trip to see The Stone Roses. The real critics will be those who loved and lived at Spike Island 23 years ago.
Spike Island is released nationwide on 21st June 2013.
Watch the trailer for Spike Island here