You don’t have to be a Stone Roses fan, but it helps. You don’t have to hail from sunny Manchester, but again, it makes it a little bit more interesting if you do.The tagline for the movie is; “it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.” This screenplay by Chris Coghill makes a valiant, if ultimately fruitless, attempt at capturing the same magic in a bottle that made the band that our cast are completely besotted with what they were. Even by the end credits, as if it weren’t obvious enough, the film is dedicated to the band that clearly had an inspiring influence on the writer.
The perfection of being young and free, the defining moment which may well be the turning point of your life in ways you cannot even begin to comprehend at the time. When you’re at a point in your life when you have the girl of your dreams on your arm, listening to a band that you both love as much as love itself and are surrounded by people you trust on the most special of evenings. This does not happen too often for the likes of these people. People who know more about hardship and the rigours of reality than most. Life is not perfect too often, but maybe; just maybe, it can be for a little while, under a Widnes sky.
Spike Island is not the first film, even this year, to at least allot a healthy portion of its running time to the music and feel of Madchester in the very early nineties. The name of the film refers to the concert venue in question where The Stone Roses were to play a one-off gig to eighty thousand people. It was the years’ hot ticket.
But this is no documentary, recording the events of the day for posterity. Spike Island tells the story of an amateur band, inspired by their musical heroes, on the days leading up to the concert itself, as they prepare, somewhat carelessly, for the trip to watch their idols take to the stage.
The feel of the film, made by the BBC, is honest to a fault, given the source material. Coghill’s Manchester of the time is not the same Manchester I recognise during the same period, but I was neither a Stone Roses fan, nor of the age that I would be influenced by peers that would have even so much as made me aware of the events taking place. Having lived in the very same city for nearly thirty years, I didn’t even know about the existence of the concert until the film was mooted for creation, some twenty-five years later. As Richard Richard would say, “you wouldn’t understand, different social strata.”
But I know/have known enough young men like the ones featured here to know that this is startlingly realistic. If anything, Spike Island in all its excess is still maybe not as hedonistic as it could have feasibly gotten away with. The featured cast members are dutiful and capable in their portrayals of disenchanted but vaguely ambitious suburban ‘yoof’ types and it is easy to forget that you’re not actually watching a film straight out of the nineties itself.
Not as gritty and dramatic as it could have been, nor as funny, with Coghill seemingly wanting to make this as accessible as possible for as many as possible. As a beacon, putting a pin in this period, to mark its passing; it is as justified and relevant as anything else. It feels authentic and close enough to reality to pass muster. It’s not the work of the gods and lacks the poetry of its main inspiration, but nonetheless, it is heartfelt, honest and made with love for the band, the time and the place.