THIS IS ENGLAND (director/writer: Shane Meadows; cinematographer: Danny Cohen; editor: Chris Wyatt; music: Ludovico Einaudi; cast: Thomas Turgoose (Shaun), Stephen Graham (Combo), Jo Hartley (Cynth), Andrew Shim (Milky), Vicky McClure (Lol), Joe Gilgun (Woody), Andrew Ellis (Gadget), Rosamund Hanson (Smell), Frank Harper (National Front organizer); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mark Herbert; IFC First Take and Red Envelope Entertainment; 2006-UK)
“A post-punk gem of a drama that seems bent on being both funny and deadly serious.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is England is a post-punk gem of a drama that seems bent on being both funny and deadly serious. It revisits the England of the Thatcher regime in July of 1983, the country’s high unemployment, rising racism, the new nationalist sentiment, the rising resentment against the Pakistani immigrants, and uses effectively the background of Britain’s Falkland Islands war to lay the groundwork for its coming-of-age story and the other political story about the struggle for the hearts and minds of the English people in these changing and uncertain times. It’s a personal (semi-autobiographical tale) and hardhitting political drama by filmmaker Shane Meadows (“The Stairwell”/ “Northern Soul”/”Dead Man’s Shoes”), who has a good sense of what’s up with the disenfranchised working class folks he features and what it’s like to be a victim and searching for a place to fit in.
It follows the trail of a chubby, sullen, loner 12-year-old named Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), who lives with his impoverished widowed mom Cynth (Jo Hartley) in a northern coastal village where he’s picked on daily by bullies in school and is still grieving the loss of his beloved dad in the Falklands War with Argentina. Mom’s at a loss about how to help her boy, who needs male role models and friends; after one miserable week in school he’s surprisingly befriended by a benign group of older skinheads (teenagers and some in their early twenties) led by a gangly and talkative layabout named Woody (Joe Gilgun). Shaun is understood by these friendly outsiders and misfits, and though given a bit of teasing is accepted into the group as sort of a mascot when he gets his head shaved by Woody’s sensitive girlfriend Lol (Vicky McClure) and dons the skinhead dress of a Ben Sherman shirt, jeans, suspenders and Dr. Marten boots. The skinheads act like hooligans doing vandalism, pot smoking, and other petty crimes; and one of the older girls, Smell (Rosamund Hanson), dressed in Boy George punk garb allows Shaun to kiss and feel her up and would have gone all the way if the insecure lad was up to the task. The easy going mood suddenly changes when hate monger Combo (Stephen Graham), the previous leader of the group, returns from a stint in prison and divides the group with his frightening nationalistic and racist beliefs he learned in prison. Combo has become a foot soldier in the nasty National Front movement, a neo-fascist organization that blames all foreigners for draining England’s resources and causing the great unemployment because it made labor cheap. Shaun sides with him, as the charismatic leader proves to be more powerful than the easy going Woody and gives the kid something to mull over about his father’s death and what it is to be a real Englishman. It leads to the easily manipulated Shaun gleefully taking part in his new surrogate father’s attack of three Muslim boys playing soccer on their turf, an ugly robbery and racial attack on a Pakistani grocery store and then becoming turned off by his new surrogate father’s vicious uncalled for beating of the Jamaican of the group, Milky (Andrew Shim). He’s the only black member of the skinhead group, who sided with Woody in the split and was one of the first to befriend Shaun; this is something the still psychologically scarred Shaun can’t forget.
The film works so well mostly because of the guileless and energetic performance of the unprofessional actor Turgoose; he’s naturally feisty, primitively raw, and the camera has a kind eye out for him. His transformation to a skinhead is believable, as is his sudden pugnacious attitude and then return to being a child again needing nurturing and support. To fill you with more nostalgia than you might want, there’s clips of Margaret Thatcher doing photo-ops, TV’s Roland Rat, the beginnings of the video games craze among western youth, songs from Duran Duran and Toots and the Maytals, and the unforgettable royal wedding of Charles and Di. Now if those thick English accents were a bit easier to understand for this American, the pic might have been that much more understandable.
REVIEWED ON 9/23/2007 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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