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« Win Big Breadwinner Hog DVD sets | Main | Shane Meadows on the South Bank Show »


Big screen: This Is England (2007)

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In Simon Reynolds' unputdownable treatise on post punk, Rip It Up And Start Again, he refers to the period that he carefully, lovingly dissects as the Short Eighties….

Shane Meadows' This Is England revisits, graphically, this half remembered time of YOP Schemes, high unemployment, Diana's big day with Charles, huge hair (and no hair), racist marches and...ahem...Roland Rat. Opening credits bombarding you with clips of news reports and TV shows fixing the viewer firmly in 1983 and there looming large, images of warships, aircraft and british troops rescuing the far flung Falkland Islands from the Argentine menace...the forgotten war.

England_2

Shaun, the diminutive protagonist of This Is England is breaking up from school, standing his own in a playground taunt over his dead soldier father, a Falklands' casualty. Beautifully recaptured in aspic and presented in all their glories are the dizzying (and tear-inducing) arrays of youth cult street fashions bedecking his fellow 'no uniform day' pupils (including mods, two tone nutty boys, goths and Boy George-a-likes) and it is one of these tribes that Shaun adopts on his way home - his life is changed forever.

Having passed-up this writer/director's previous work (criminal, I know) but also having heard magnificent claims, I approached this film with some small dose of scepticism and an unholy amount of expectation. I wasn’t going to do this but hey...obvious comparisons need to be aired. Ken Loach and Mike Leigh and a whole slew of Play For Todays are all over this picture in both style and slice-of-life subject matter. The naturalistic performances from little known and first time actors lend the film a vitatilty and freshness that can bring a lump to one's throat. It did come across like a directorial debut - not a bad thing you understand as Messrs Leigh and Loach imbue their all productions with the same quality.

Drawing from the director's own childhood experiences, his very own mini me (Shaun, played with gobsmacking conviction by Thomas Turgoose) undergoes a series of transformations starting with the blade two haircut, discovering the opposite sex, friendship, the grown-up world and an eventual loss of innocence. Set in an anonymous northern seaside town, the grey council estates and almost flint coloured deserted beaches provide the ideal backdrop, evoking perfectly the grim spectre of Thatcher's Britain. The attention to detail is extremely remarkable from the food labels seen in the corner shop to the décor both inside and outside - the grafitti even scores with ‘Maggie is a twat’ the most visible...Maggie’s Farm indeed!

Another detail painstakingly but effortlessly on display brings me to what I perceive is the director's lesser story. Skinheads have long since served as frightening visions of racist extremism and urban disaffection-to the mass public anyhow. Anyone who knows anything about British youth cults or has even been associated with this fiercely working class movement will tell you that it wasn’t as (pardon the pun) black and white as that and what Shane Meadows attempts here is to kind of redress the balance.

Sympathetic portrayals of the skinhead gang, especially Woody (Joe Gilgun) his girlfriend Lol.(Vicky McClure) and Milky (Andrew Shim) illustrate that this second wave of skins were as dedicated to style and black music as the 1969 variety.  The haircuts, notably the girl skinheads, are the real deal and the clothing is about as sharp as you can get as is the soundtrack which nods frenetically to the spirit of ‘69 – the pounding chug of Rocksteady and Ska.

It’s only with the arrival of the much older, much damaged embodiment of pent-up rage, Combo (Stephen Graham) that choices need to be made regarding ideas of race, class and identity. I waited for the much-mentioned scenes of racial abuse with baited breath and when they came they still gave me an almighty jolt, feeling as shell shocked as the victim of all this vitriol. What adds tragic resonance to this tale is the relationship between Combo and Shaun and the gap left by Shaun's father. When we are finally left with yet more images of Goose Green and the Union Flag being raised on that wind swept South Atlantic outcrop we feel that gap like nothing else.

That such subject matter as this is dealt with in such heartwarming ultimately heart rending way is surely testament to the art of Shane Meadows.

Mark Ellis

This Is England is on general release from 27th April 2007

Comments

Adam Casey

I really can't wait to see this. I also can't believe you write for a film blog and haven't seen Mr Meadows other works. Surely you are right now sat in front of your TV. watching 24/7, A Room For Romeo Brass and Dead Mans shoes? I wouldn't rush to see Once Upon a Time in the Midlands.

Pikeys Dog

Don't forget to check out "Small Time", starring Meadows himself.

Comes with a very amusing short film - titled "Where's The Money Ronnie!"

David Reynolds

I've been looking forward to this from the momoent I heard about it... can't wait much longer. Honestly, if it's half as good as A Room For Romeo Brass or Dead Man's Shoes (surely the best British film for, oh I don't know, 20 years or more.... yes it is that good) it has to be a candidate for one of the year's best.

Crissy

I don't know what I was expecting really, but this film just disappointed me. There always has to be some "Hando-esque" figure that all the goons follow. It was just too predictable.

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