BAFTA award winning Writer/Director Shane Meadows often chooses to examine themes that echo the harsh realities of life with grit and a hard-hitting sense of realism. This is one of the reasons he was been hailed as a modern day Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. The now multi-awarding winning film This Is England is the fifth feature by the British director and is based on his own experiences growing up in England during the turbulent times in the early 80s.
Set over the summer holidays of 1983, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), a lonely and bullied 12 year old boy dealing with the death of his dad moves to a small coastal town with his single mum. Feeling lost Shaun falls in with a group of likeable and surprisingly friendly older skinheads. The Gang leaders Woody (Joe Gilgun) and Milky (Andrew Shim) provide new role models, and Shaun’s new found friends act as both a new family as well as a giving him a new lease of life in parties, music, Ben Sherman shirts, girlfriends and of course, Doc Martin boots.
The innocence and laidback camaraderie of the gang is soon split with the arrival of Combo (Stephen Graham) a National Front and overtly racist skinhead (who blames England’s economic downturn and growing unemployment on the influx of foreign minorities) who returns from prison, causing the group to splinter, and drawing Shaun, who feels a sense of duty to his father, down a dangerous path.
The film is essentially a snapshot of an era and captures the mood, feel and look extremely well. Being shot on 16mm film gives the movie a raw, grainy and immediate look which is interlaced seamlessly with library footage of Roland Rat, Margaret Thatcher, the Royal Wedding and the Falklands War. The film handles themes of masculinity, rejection, sub-cultures, brotherhood, role models, violence and race-hate with ease and its subject, message, and politicized long view never feels preachy or forced. Meadows expertly balances the personal with the political, highlighting the importance of brotherhood and role models while also warning of their dangers.
The movies cast breathes life into the film and offer some astonishingly natural and spontaneous performances. Notably the actors were all very inexperienced and for the most part gathered from the local youth theatre group. The lead, Thomas Turgoose, gives a beautifully honest, powerful and ultimately moving performance, brimming with humour, character and a real sense of pain. The supporting cast give equally stunning performances, particularly the charismatic Joseph Gilgun and the terrifying Stephen Graham, whose scenes are incredibly tense, simmering with an undercurrent of hatred and anger.
The soundtrack pulses throughout and compliments the the movie effortlessly. Toots and the Maytals, The Specials, and Ian Dury play throughout the drama and the heavy hearted tragedy that follows.
An engaging, well written and superbly directed film that’s evocative, gripping, funny, suspenseful and ultimately moving.
2010 Shane Meadows continued the story with a follow up series for channel 4 in the UK entitled “This is England 86″ which catches up with the gang three years after the original film. In 2011 a second installment was aired “This is England 88,” and finally a third is in process and rumored to be scheduled for 2013: “This is England 90.”
Take a Drink: every time a British song from the 80s is played
Take a Drink: every time there is a reference to Dr. Marten boots
Take a Drink: every time Shaun swears in front of his mum