Director: Shane Meadows
This Is England: as a title, it’s declarative and in-your-face, two very apt phrases to describe the film itself. Shane Meadows’ homage to the 1980s of his youth is a necessarily brash and confident piece of work.
As a contrast to its depiction in the 1960s (think of the image of ‘cool Britannia’ in Quadrophenia or A Hard Day’s Night), Britain in the 1980s (and in This Is England) is a haunted place, spooked by the spectre of the Falklands War and the tough austerity measures of the Thatcher government. It is in this setting we meet Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), a 12-year-old boy who’s bullied at school and misses his father, who was killed in the Falklands. Lacking both father and friends, Shaun is in need of guidance. When he encounters a group of Burberry-sporting layabouts (led by Joe Gilgun’s Woody) who take a shine to him, Shaun can’t resist their charms. It’s only when former group member Combo (Stephen Graham) is released from prison that things start to go awry, as he espouses racism and violence towards minorities.
In no unambiguous way, Shaun is Britain incarnate; He is England, disenchanted, bereaved and lacking influence. His mother (Jo Hartley) is no disciplinarian, and Shaun is vulnerable. Turgoose’s performance is all anger and adolescent frustration; the fact that this was his first ever acting job makes his performance even more impressive. Whether verbally assaulting a local shopkeeper or getting to know the pleasures of an (older) girl, Shaun is sympathetic as he is under the influence of very dangerous people. As the main source of influence, Graham morphs from charming to terrifying at the drop of a hat. He’s hateful, but never less than compelling. A barrage of colourful supporting characters, plus the definitive style and sound of the era, give a definite tone and feel to proceedings.
In writing the screenplay, Meadows drew upon his own experiences growing up as a disillusioned youth in 80s England. This Is England is a personal reaction to the changes befalling a nation, a terrifying trend told from one point of view. It shows how easily led the masses can be when they are so inclined, but also serves as a paean to corrupted childhood. This Is England boasts potentially tricky material, but handles it in a mature and confidently cinematic way. The final shot of the film is a clear reference to the ultimate film about lost childhood, Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups. If not quite matching Truffaut’s opus, This Is England is still a powerful and relevant warning against the corruption of the childhood (childish?) mind.