Following "24 Hour Party People" and "Control," another chapter in the rich musical history of northwest England is celebrated in coming-of-age saga "Spike Island."
Following “24 Hour Party People” and “Control,” another chapter in the rich musical history of northwest England is celebrated in coming-of-age saga “Spike Island.” This third feature from Mat Whitecross (“Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”) focuses on a fictional teen band in the days leading up to the May 1990 Merseyside outdoor concert performed by Manchester’s Stone Roses, the event to which the title refers. Family melodrama, budding romance and a quest for tickets jostle in an unfocused pop-culture item that will appeal most strongly to nostalgics eager to relive the glory years of Blighty’s “baggy” (psychedelic) sound.
In the red-brick public housing projects of Manchester, 16-year-old Gary “Tits” Titchfield (Elliott Tittensor, from the British version of “Shameless”) and his four cohorts in indie band Shadowcaster are inspired by their local heroes, whose debut album, “The Stone Roses,” has been steadily growing in popularity since its 1989 release. Taking their cue from the trademark Jackson Pollock-influenced cover art created for each Stone Roses record by guitarist John Squire, the five pals go crazy in the school gym with splattered paint. Less photogenic developments follow: Gary’s seriously ill father (Steve Evets) asks his son to take over his open-air flower shop; elder brother Ste (Matthew McNulty) returns from Ibiza; and singer Gary and guitarist Dodge (Nico Mirallegro) begin an unstated rivalry for the affections of pretty classmate Sally (Emilia Clarke).
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.
Creating compelling drama is a bigger challenge, one not particularly matched by the meandering screenplay from Chris Coghill (“Weekender”), who performs amusingly here as Gary’s unsavory, beer-swilling Uncle Hairy. A mix of trained and non-pro actors struggle to get a grip on the barely sketched Shadowcaster members, and a profusion of supporting characters at local dive the Dark Side make even less of an impression.
Lesley Manville, one of several thesps pressed into service following their turns in Whitecross’ still-unreleased sophomore feature, “Ashes,” reliably elevates her scant screentime as Gary’s mother Margaret. The director, whose resume includes musicvideos for Coldplay (all four members are named exec producers here), is on firmer ground corralling tech contributions. The titular concert, restaged on the original Widnes location, is impressively captured with overhead crane shots and digital crowds courtesy of London f/x house the Brewery.
Showcasing 13 Stone Roses compositions, “Spike Island” aptly celebrates a group of musicians who sadly became poster children for the sophomore jinx, disbanding shortly after 1994’s absurdly false-promising “The Second Coming” before reuniting for recent comeback concerts. Their debut long player is one of the few rock albums that might justly be assessed all killer, no filler; Whitecross and Coghill’s sincerely intended love letter to the era, not so much.