This is England

After the success of ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ local filmmaker Shane Meadows returns with ‘This is England’ a story of absence and isolation, belonging and the power of persuasion. Set in 1983 with a backdrop of the war in the Falklands the film opens with a montage of relevant images everything from Maggie Thatcher to Knight Rider that really take you back and put you in the right space to meet Shaun. Shaun the films central character (played superbly by newcomer Thomas Turgoose) is a typical eighties kid, riding round on his griffter, washing neighbours cars for cash to buy a catapult and being constantly picked on for being different. When we first meet him we quickly learn that his father was a victim of the war raging at Maggie’s command. Enter the gang Woody, Milky, Pukey, et all, a rag tag bunch of mods and skinheads complete with crimped haired girlfriends, with the absence of his father and any real sense of being part of something Shaun is quickly welcomed into the group and takes up not just the mannerisms or clothes but drinking, smoking and growing up to quickly. Things go ok for a while until Combo arrives on the scene. Straight out of prison and a British blooded skinhead through to his core you can sense trouble on the horizon. Soon the gang becomes segmented because of differences of opinion and fuelled by the war and the council estate mentality of accepting foreigners’ things start to spiral out of control and Shaun finds himself in way above his head. A brilliantly written script that can at times have you laughing out loud and at others sitting nervously on the edge of your seat as the tension builds is delivered well by all the cast. The music is fitting, mixing eighties chart hits with haunting piano pieces and the cinematography is close to a previous Meadows outing ‘A Room for Romeo Brass’ which gives it a feel like it was filmed in the eighties. The attention to detail is brilliant as shop shelves are laden with products we no longer see or have long since upgraded there packaging. One of the scariest things was it was hard to imagine that time in this country because any of us who lived through it have almost chosen to block it out completely, but it was done so well and had me fishing in my memory to fit things into the time scale being used. There is defiantly a more matured Meadows at work here but he’s lost none of his cheeky charm and observational skill and the characters he’s created could have easily have lived next door to me growing up. The metaphor of the country getting behind Thatcher in the Falklands juxtaposed with that of the skinheads, including the initiated Shaun, getting behind the slightly off kilter Combo is handled with a great sense of poignancy and it is moving to see both stories unfold from within the film and library footage. Racism and intolerance are by no means behind us but here we are shown one of the skeletons in the Great British (sic) closet through the eyes of a child and one who would grow up to represent the next generation. Meadows has said in interviews that it is partly based on his experiences growing up and he sees a lot of himself in Shaun, I saw a lot of me in the character but I also saw memories I’d have rather forgotten. Funny, British and bleak Meadows is slowly climbing the ranks to join the Mike Leigh’s and Ken Loach’s of this world and if this film is anything to go by it wont take him very long. Any fan of Meadows previous work will love it and no doubt delight in his continuing growth as a filmmaker but everyone should see it regardless as it is another fine example of British film at its rawest and best.

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