This Is England
Details: (MA15+), 101 mins, English
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is an isolated lad growing up in a grim coastal town, whose father has died fighting in the Falklands war. Over the course of the summer holiday he finds fresh male role models when those in the local skinhead scene take him in. With his new friends Shaun discovers a world of parties, first love and the joys of Dr Marten boots. It's at one of these parties that he meets Combo (Stephen Graham), an older, racist skinhead who has recently got out of prison. As Combo’s gang harass the local ethnic minorities, the course is set for a rite of passage that will hurl Shaun from innocence to experience.
It is the summer of 1983. Young Shaun has just lost his father in the Falklands war and is taken in by a group of Skinheads who offer the lonely boy comfort and a sense of belonging.
Over the course of the summer, Shaun’s life and view of the world dramatically changes… never to be the same again.
Written and directed by the talented Shane Meadows, This is England is a stunning film. Its authenticity and rawness stem from the script’s autobiographical nature.
With the backdrop of the bloody Falkland’s disaster, the hometown dilemma of unemployment and poverty and the rise of racial intolerance, Meadows’ story of a young boy caught up in such confusion is beautifully realised.
The film is shot on 16mm, giving it a gritty, raw look that effectively reflects their world of boredom, Doc Martins, violence and graffiti and because the story was operating on so many levels - the characters, situations and outcomes are all so gratifying.
I love being surprised as a filmgoer and the lead performance of young Thomas Turgoose flawed me. He has never acted before and was found pretty much off the street.
Meadows often prefers to work with non-professional actors and after viewing this film and all the riveting performances, I think he is onto something.
Meadows effortlessly blends the personal with the political - I was moved by the young boy longing for his father and confronted by the hatred of the times.
This little British gem is such a powerful film, I’m giving it 4.5 stars.
Tough, gritty but supremely heartfelt, This Is England succeeds not just as a piece of highly personal filmmaking but also as an uncompromising slice of social commentary.
It’s been a decade since Shane Meadows made the leap from directing short films such as Where’s The Money, Ronnie? and Small Time (which he’d financed with his dole money) to his highly lauded debut feature Twenty Four Seven. Along the way, the 35-year-old filmmaker has taken the brand of grass roots, naturalistic filmmaking pioneered by the likes of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and the late, great Alan Clarke (Made In Britain, Scum) and explored modern England through tales of the working class. Meadows’ highly organic improvisational style lends itself to a certain kind of fluidity in the development of his projects. His last film Dead Man’s Shoes began life as a comedy, and mutated – through Meadows’ signature workshop style – into a revenge thriller that oozed all the brutal grit of Death Wish and Straw Dogs.
Meadows’ latest effort is his most audacious to date. A semi-autobiographical story, This Is England draws heavily upon Meadows’ memories of his youth and his flirtation with gang culture. His affectionate and honest look at the time he spent as a skinhead is not just a coming-of-age story. It’s also about the England of the ‘80s versus the England of 2007, and the director’s connection to the trials and tribulations of the working class. The film takes place in 1983 within Meadows’ familiar mise en scene of the rural north, and follows the story of Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), a shy 12-year-old who’s recently lost his father in the Falklands conflict. An outsider at school, Shaun is often bullied and teased, and spends most of his free time keeping to himself and avoiding confrontation. After a chance meeting on his way home from school, Shaun is taken under the wing of local skinhead Woody (Joseph Gilgun) and his motley group of friends who haunt the housing estate where Shaun lives. They soon introduce the youngster to the skinhead lifestyle: buzz cuts, Ben Sherman shirts, Doc Martin boots, reggae, weed, booze and, most importantly, girls.
By far his most confident work, This Is England sees Meadows achieving an impressive level of elegance within the effortless execution of this tale. It’s a heartfelt depiction of a slice of recent history, and a clutch of brilliant central performances (most notably from newcomer Turgoose) serve to cement Meadows as a supremely gifted storyteller with uncommon compassion. He is a filmmaker whose work is always evolving and never less than compelling.
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