Newest Review: ... on me. The film is an eighteen due to the language used and the violent/sexual scenes. My copy of the DVD has got various extras including:... more
This is England - This is Great English Cinema
This Is England (DVD)
Member Name: sonic0209
This Is England (DVD)
Advantages: Powerful, poignant, menacing, great performances, thought provoking
Disadvantages: Not for you if you like good looking, glossy films or you don't like swearing...
This powerful and poignant is a portrayal of Thatcher’s Britain and the appeal (and the menace) of the gang, but most importantly, it is a very moving story of a young boy’s grief over losing his father and his struggle to belong.
This is the most recent film (released in 2006) from the very talented, Nottingham based director, Shane Meadows, who stays very true to his personal roots and to the tradition of excellent British film making followed by the likes of Ken Loach (Kes, My Name is Joe, Raining Stones) and Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Life is Sweet). The cast are largely unknowns, the setting is always ‘gritty’ (council estates in the Midlands, the unemployed, the struggles and the triumphs of ordinary lives) and the soundtrack is usually excellent. Shane’s insistence on avoiding the money, celebrity and publicity of the London-centric film industry (with the exception of Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, which was critically acclaimed, but with which Shane was wholly dissatisfied) has kept his films unpolished and totally believable. Shane drew heavily on his own childhood experiences for ‘This is England’, which ensures authenticity – this is not an approximation of a certain time and setting, these are memories set to a story.
The film opens with a series of news reel and clips from the early 80s, starting with Roland Rat and the Royal Wedding, but moving into the more disturbing images of the Falkland conflict, NF marches and race riots. There’s no question of when and where we are and the backdrop for the film.
The story starts on the last day at school before the summer holidays in 1983. In the playground groups of Mods, New Romantics and Skinheads are hanging around, making the most of non-uniform day to flaunt their identity – 12-year-old Shaun is wearing flares, which attracts some remarks. Shaun’s a plucky thing and fights back, but a joke about his father, who died in the Falklands, results in fists flying. On his way home from school, feeling dejected and sorry for himself, Shaun encounters a gang of skinheads. You’re expecting another round of bullying, but surprisingly they take him under their wing, showing concern and sympathy and inviting him to join them.
What follows is a really warm part of the film. Despite the menacing outward appearance, the gang of skinheads, all of whom are quite a few years older than Shaun, are friendly and welcoming. Woody, the gang leader, is much like an older brother, making sure the others accept Shaun into the gang, and as Shaun slowly makes the transformation to skinhead, Woody’s girlfriend shaves his head and Woody buys him his first Ben Sherman to complete the look. His initiation is complete – now he really belongs.
The camaraderie is broken up, though, when Combo returns from prison. An older skinhead, Combo is disturbed (and disturbing), racist and militant. The group is split into those who will follow Combo into his right wing fight and those who will remain with Woody. Shaun is taken in by Combo’s strong words on the subject of the Falklands, believing that he has a battle to fight to make his father’s death have meaning and value, to make his father proud. He follows Combo into an altogether more menacing place.
I spent half of the film with that tight feeling in your throat that you get when you’re watching a moving film! Shaun’s grief at losing his father is palpable in several of the scenes and is played out in both quiet moments in the film between him and his mother and in angry outbursts. Combo invites all the skinhead gang around to give them the speech on his cause and invite them to sign up with him. As he is ranting about the Falklands and the poor b*****ds that are dying over there for no good reason, Shaun flies at him angrily and then dissolves into tears (I nearly did too!).
Combo is quite taken with Shaun and by the guts that he shows. No one takes a swing at him and here is this little tike, so much smaller than him, standing up for himself. Combo empathises with him, alluding to having been let down and deserted by people that he loves and promising Shaun that he will always be there for him. And so, this relationship is set up as one of trust, with Combo a very unlikely father figure, and your sense of unease grows.
The cast is very strong, but the performances by Thomas Turgoose (Shaun) and Stephen Graham (Combo) deserve particular mention.
By all accounts, it took Meadows a long time to find some one to play Shaun, but Thomas, just 13 when he landed a role and a complete new comer to the world of acting, is stunning in the role. His performance is honest, plucky and heartbreaking.
Stephen Graham is a more accomplished actor, but on the screen he is simply Combo and his performance is powerful and menacing. He portrays Combo’s hatred with passion, but you still retain some sympathy for the character as he is clearly suffering his own unspoken pain, making the performance raw.
Please don’t think the film is all grief, anger and menace. There are some really warm scenes between Shaun and the other skinheads and there are some moments of real comedy, too. One of these is a scene where Shaun takes his mum into a shoe shop to buy a pair of Doc Martens. She doesn’t like them as they look like thugs boots and the shop assistant tries to palm him off with some Monkey Boots which are ‘from London’ and therefore ‘very special’ indeed, so ‘special’ in fact that they don’t have the words ‘Doc Marten’ in them!
The film is an education in all things skinhead. The image is so closely associated with right wing politics and violence, but Meadows makes a clear distinction between that image and the skinhead culture of his own experiences. There is real friendship between the gang members and contrary to the racist image, they have a love of West Indian music. Indeed, Combo himself says to Milky, an African-Caribbean member of the gang, that he is an old school skinhead and they are like brothers, sharing in a love of the same music.
The soundtrack, as you might imagine, plays an important part in the success of this film.
It captures the varying and different sounds of the time, mixing classic ska and two tone tracks with pop hits by the likes of Soft Cell, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Strawberry Switchblade.
The closing scene is played out to a version of the Smiths’ ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’ by Clayhill, which is really, really moving!
You can buy the soundtrack. I notice that scenes from film are interspersed with the tracks to really put you back in the film when you’re listening!
It is no surprise to me that this is England won two awards at the British Independent Film Awards (Best Film and Most Promising Newcomer).
I was completely moved by the film and would probably enjoy watching it again just as much as I enjoyed the first viewing. This is not bland, simpering, good looking Hollywood entertainment, this is raw, honest, powerful cinema – This is England.
The DVD comes with some excellent extras, particularly if you have interest in youth culture of the early eighties or skinheads in particular. It includes interviews with Meadows, the producer Mark Herbert, and some members of the cast, including Thomas Turgoose along with deleted scenes and behind the scenes footage. There’s also some stuff on the make up and costume department, which I haven’t watched yet, but am looking forward to, and there’s another section on skinheads and the Falklands.
The 2-disk DVD retails for 11.99 online at HMV and 11.98 on Amazon, but you can get it for less on E-Bay. The soundtrack is available for Ł8.98 on Amazon.
I also write on Ciao under the same name.
Summary: A powerful story about belonging and the loss of innocence, set in England in the early 80's