VOD film review: Spike Island
Ian Loring | On 03, Nov 2013Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Mat Whitecross
Cast: Elliott Tittensor, Nico Mirallegro, Jordan Murphy, Adam Long, Emilia Clarke
Watch Spike Island online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Who ever thought the 90s would be something to be nostalgic about? But the era of shell suits and E’s & Wizz does seem to be making for some prime pop culture right now. Bands of the 90s have been going on reunion tours, some recording new songs, some wallowing in re-found fame.
One example is the Stone Roses, a band once tipped for insanely great things after their first album before diving off a cliff with their second. Spike Island – a film about their legendary show of the same name – has been around for a while (it played the London film Festival last year), but has unfortunately fallen under the radar with cinematic focus given instead to Shane Meadows’s documentary, Made of Stone. With the film now out on DVD and video on-demand, Spike Island can come out of that film’s shadow a little. On the strength of much of the material, it deserves to.
In content, Matt Whitecross’ film plays out like a companion piece to David Chase’s excellent drama Not Fade Away; it’s centred around music, the formation of a young band, reverence for older bands and the sense that “an era is ending”, as the film’s narrator actually says at one point. This isn’t exactly original or inventive material to chew on, but the association between youth and music remains as relevant as it ever has; the film’s linking of the height of the Stone Roses’ powers to these boys playing in their own band makes for some rather profound moments.
Spike Island benefits from having a solid cast, with some recognisable faces but mainly earthy and grounded performances from a bunch of unknown young actors. In the lead, Elliott Tittensor is likeable as Tits, the obvious nucleus of the group whom everyone wants to be around. He also deals with the most emotionally affecting material; his relationship with his gravely ill father (Evets), while again not doing anything particularly new, finds strength in their performances.
The film suffers from not having that much interesting material for the other boys: Zippy (Murphy) has a few scenes in the first half with his dad pointing to a rather dark relationship, but this is never explored all that much and feels like it may have been given more importance in an earlier draft; Nico Mirallegro (Dodge) does well with the character that he’s given – towards the end of the film, he does a lot with little dialogue, as his bond with our hero reaches breaking point.
The rest of the cast are generally used for comic relief and narrative conventions, but Spike Island has an ace up its sleeve: Emilia Clarke. Almost unrecognisable from Game of Thrones’ powerful leader Daenerys, she plays Sally, whom the screenplay essentially idolises. She’s given little background but Clarke’s chemistry with Tittensor is effective. As that girl you always wish you had the courage to ask out at school, she fits the bill perfectly.
Whitecross’ direction is zippy and keeps the film going at a nice pace, with something interesting happening visually throughout. Chris Coghill’s script is full of believable dialogue and certainly feels like it comes from the heart. The music of the Stone Roses also plays a very large part, although it panders a little too much at times, hitting us on the head with how we’re supposed to be feeling when what’s on screen shows us well enough.
Spike Island certainly isn’t a game changer, but it never once feels like it’s trying to be. It’s a look back at a very particular time and place but the universal themes of friendship – and having to grow up and give up on the things previously so important to you – can be understood by anyone.
Spike Island is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. It is also available on BBC iPlayer until 29th July 2019.