This Is England

23 Sep

Director: Shane Meadows (2006)

I am most definitely a little late of the mark with this film, but on the back of the new Channel 4 series, This is England ’86, I guess I have proved the point that intensive advertising works on the masses in increasing DVD sales…

In my defence, I had seen the first half hour of this film when it first came out but other pursuits kept me more entertained – often the pursuits the characters themselves were also enjoying – and so I never saw the end. And what an end it is.

The story follows a  group of original scenesters in northern England, in 1983, raised on a diet of ska, soul, Doc Martins and skinhead culture. Imbued with the inevitable politics of the time, Meadows somehow never falls into the all too often risky genre of polemic film making and instead, the anger against the Falklands war and Thatcher, the underlying racial tensions as a reaction to the increase in migrant workers in the UK and resultant white nationalism, becomes a necessary addition to the story.

Shaun, played by the insurmountable Thomas Turgoose, is the 12 year old protagonist who, after a shit day at school, bumps into a group of skinheads under a bridge. Woody, their leader, takes Shaun under his wing, welcoming him into the fold of skinny jeans and Ben Sherman shirts. And skin heads. Shaun gets his first lady love in the form of new wave punk, Smell, and after a makeover from Lol, Woody’s girlfriend (and my hopeless lady crush), things are finally looking up.

That is until Combo, an older skinhead, is released from prison and wants to return to his place as leader of the pack. Filling the screen with unease, Stephen Graham plays Combo, enbittered, enraged and filled with racial hatred and English nationalist views, disturbingly well. As the group splits, Shaun must decide whether to stay with his friends, who rescued him from the misery of school bullies or follow the man who vows revenge on the people who supported the war that killed his father.

The simplicity of the plot allows time for the themes and style of the film to permeate through each frame. From their hair to the soundtrack, the bleak landscape of the industrial coastal north and the costumes, This Is England epitomises the diverse styles and societies of the time. Thankfully, the new series, This Is England 86′ remains true to all these things. And as a mini series with each episode an hour long, we are finally given more time to learn about the histories and relationships between the other characters in the gang. Style has moved on, just like their morals have. Tattoos are covered by ingenious hairstyling, and while the past may seem unspoken on the surface, it seems more and more determined to burst through into their present… I cannot wait to see how it all turns out. Thank you, Mr Meadows.

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