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 was England (in some parts at least)
This Is England (DVD)
Member Name: Suzela
This Is England (DVD)
Advantages: A thought provoking well crafted film
Disadvantages: Doesn't deal with nice subjects so be warned!
So our rental DVD is sat on the doormat and I open it up eagerly expecting it to be one of my choices (we are very democratic in our house – my husband and I choose the films we want to watch individually and then alternate them on the list) but to my disappointment it was obviously one of my husband’s choices as it was Shane Meadows' latest film This Is England (2006). Don’t get me wrong I like Shane Meadows’ films – there is something about them that makes them compelling watching but they’re not the kind of film you put on for light entertainment. They are thought provoking, gritty and hard-hitting films with a wonderful grasp of human nature – you just have to be in the right kind of mood to watch it. Of course you never know when you will be in the right mood so I just said to my husband that I had some work to do so I’d sit tapping away on the laptop and “watch” it. However I really didn’t get anything done at all.
Shane Meadows’ has brought us fantastic films in the past – A Room for Romeo Brass and Dead Man’s Shoes being my favourites and so This Is England was following in the footsteps of some quite wonderful films. You can’t call them successes in the traditional sense as they have a limited audience really and are not supported by huge studios but to those who watch and appreciate them they have a special place in our hearts. But really anyone who is interested in films should watch them as a lesson in less is more. Often held up as the modern Ken Loach, he excels in making hard hitting social commentary films centred around the goings on of a small community of characters.
This Is England sets out to capture the mood of 1983 – a time where the war in the Falklands was ending, a time of 3 million unemployed and for many in the North of England there was a sense of bleakness for the future. The ideal breeding ground for unrest. But this story is centred on the 12 year old Shaun, a child troubled by the loss of his father in the war and is desperately trying to fit in and comes to terms with his father’s death. The film starts on the last day of term where Shaun is picked on for wearing flares. Being a plucky character he stands his ground but a fight ensues when the death of his father is mentioned in the banter. On his way home he encounters a gang of skinheads who rather than picking on him (as stereotypically you may have thought they would have done), accept him into their group almost as a mascot. Being a few years older than Shaun the leader of the gang Woody takes him under his wing and becomes an older brother figure to him – something which Shaun desperately needed. They may have been a fun loving gang but they were wayward nonetheless. Days out entailed acts of vandalism in abandoned houses and yet nothing that would really harm anyone in the great scheme of things. Shaun has a purpose in his life now to become a skinhead like his new friends and his transformation into a loveable skinhead begins literally from head to toe with a Ben Sherman shirt thrown in for good measure. All of this – his acceptance into the group, his new brothers and guardians – was just what Shaun was looking for but his security was short lived with the return of an ex gang member Combo, from prison who quickly proceeds to split the gang apart – stay with Woody and lark around or go with Combo and become part of a racist and militant group.
Watching this film unfold I could not help but see comparisons with other Shane Meadows’ films and in particular A Room for Romeo Brass (the actor who played Romeo, Andrew Shim, has been in 5 of Meadows’ films now including This is England). Again taking the film and telling the story from the perspective of the child central character gives the film more poignancy as it serves as a reminder of what it was like at that age and the inevitable discovery that life isn’t all cosy and pleasant (at whatever level that takes from your best friend bad mouthing you behind your back through to much more serious let downs). Yet this film is not all doom and gloom. It is funny and moving and yet this is balanced by real depths of violence and tension. The way that tension in the scenes builds up is quite gut-wrenching at times. You can see what is coming and you want to try and stop it – sometimes it is stopped for you by a sudden turn around in the characters mood but when it finally explodes it is a truly disturbing moment. You can’t get comfortable with this film as the combination of laughs and menace are woven together perfectly so you never quite know what you are going to get next. You will be laughing out loud, have a tear in your eye or feel like someone has kicked you in the stomach.
Something that I thought was really interesting about this film was that it looked aged. Not just the sets, costumes and soundtrack placed it in the 80s but the actual film quality looked nearly 25 years old. Danny Cohen was the cinematographer and brings a great sense of reality to the film, It has a grainy raw look about it and is great because you have that handheld camera feel to give you a real eye level perspective of the characters and combined with an almost 1980s news report form of editing really gets you engrossed in the film. It really does capture the bleakness and character of the time but also mixed in there are brilliantly chosen pieces of archive footage. Brilliant because they show the not only the grittier and more disturbing political events of the time with news footage of the Falklands, Margaret Thatcher and BNP/police clashes, but also it showed how the 80s was moving into the media/technology obsessed age with footage of Charles and Diana’s wedding, Duran Duran, fitness videos, early computer gamesand shows like Roland Rat and Knight Rider (footage which as a 10 year old I remembered very well!). And then there are unseen (some are on the radio – others are just heard) messages from Margaret Thatcher being interjected at appropriate times to provide quite a hard and realistic edge. The soundtrack is exceptionally good with original music by Ludovico Einaudi and great songs evocative of the time and the mood of the film from the likes of Dexys Midnight Runners, The Specials, Soft Cell and Strawberry Switchblade (to name but a few) through to the last poignant track – Clayhill’s cover of the Smiths’ “Please please please let me get what I want”. The dialogue is completely realistic – it doesn’t try to be realistic with a hint of elocution lessons – it is raw but completely natural. You don’t think “oh dear there is too much swearing”. In fact despite there being a lot of swearing it just melts into the dialogue as it is not trying to shock you. From the moment that any of the characters utters a line you get an immediate sense of who/what they are. There are no clever expositions, the film and its characters are laid bare for you to see immediately.
But as good as all of the above is, at the end of the day all of this would still fall flat on its face if it was not for the cast’s performances and most notably that of young Thomas Tugoose whose heart is well and truly on his sleeve. He captures the isolation of a boy who has lost his father and is seeking acceptance extremely movingly and I am sure much of his feelings were taken from the fact that he lost his own mother (who the film is dedicated to) the year before this film was made. Stephen Graham gives a wonderful performance as the complex character of Combo. Essentially Combo is an older version of Shaun and so displays many of the traits we see in Shaun but in a more mature and extreme way. You just hope that Shaun sees sense before he goes too far! Joanne Hartley plays Shaun’s mum and despite her short time on screen, I found her to be the most infuriating and in a way saddest characters in as much as she had the power to keep Shaun away from all of this. But what she portrays is a grieving woman who has lost her husband, is desperate to do right by her son and yet is struggling to hold it all together. It would be far too easy to say “lock him in his room woman” but it’s not until the end of the film that you actually begin to really see her predicament and you feel for her. Joe Gilgun (probably better known now as Eli Dingle in Emmerdale) gives a lovely warm performance as the well intentioned Woody, who really didn’t have the stomach for the uglier side of a stereotypical skinhead at the time. The rest of the cast performances are quite understated but there was a real sense that they fitted into the subject of the film rather than just acting out roles.
It seems unfortunate that such a well crafted film will not have the size of audience that it deserves but maybe that is also part of its charm. As a watcher you feel like you are part of an exclusive club and you only let those in that you want to. Personally though I think that if you claim to like films you have to watch this film and others by Shane Meadows if you haven’t already. It isn’t pretty and some of the issues are not easy to stomach but it is British cinema at its best.
101 minutes long
Summary: A very fine film