Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2007 11:00 pm 
Site Admin

Joined: Sat Mar 08, 2003 1:50 pm
Posts: 4654
Location: California/NYC

Bonding on the brink of tenderness and rage

This is England: hatred, repressed fury, violence, and racism. It's 1983 in a stark North of England town near the coast, and Shaun (Thomas Turgoose, astonishingly intense and real) is a little stocky pre-teen boy living with his mother Cynthia (Jo Hartley, with big hair and big glasses). His father has recently died, unlucky enough to be one of the 258 British soldiers to lose their lives in Mrs. Thatcher's Falklands adventure. The Iron Lady's stock is high, but not in Shaun's poor neighborhood, where the façade of a shabby Church of Christ is emblazoned with the words "Maggie is a twat." Shaun's clock radio wakes him up with Maggie's voice in the opening scene: he quickly turns it off.

Shaun doesn't fit in at school and gets ragged for having a dead dad, and for wearing a pair of bell-bottoms. He attacks a bigger boy, who gets beaten by the school authorities. As he heads home through an underpass, a motley crew of skinheads are waiting for one of their number to bring them some beer. They see he's had a bad day and, overcoming his resistance, a particularly nice one, Woody (Joseph Gilgun), insists that he sit down and join them.

And join them he does, soon acquiring Doc Martens substitutes in size four, tight jeans, a natty checked shirt, and a skinned head, and joining the others in a café or sharing drinks and smokes with them and their colorfully dressed girlfriends in tiny flats. The film is attentive to its period in dress, music, and visuals, which are in-your-face without seeming self-conscious. Dialogue is disarmingly direct and natural. Summer vacation rolls around, and Shaun finds fellowship and welcome beyond his wildest dreams. When a very large boy (Gadget, Andrew Ellis) bullies him, Woody intercedes; but Shaun's more than ready to go on the attack himself despite being half everyone else's size. The group is a mixture, with one black Jamaican, Milky (Andrew Shim), and males of various ages. Early on they dress up wildly and go smashing up vacant council flats. Director Meadows, who says Shaun's experience partly echoes his own, seems eager to make this little working class gang original and free of racism. Problems are ironed out through frank encounters, and there are lots of hugs.

That's till the appearance of Combo (Stephen Graham), an older skinhead just returned after three years in jail and seething with hate. It's immediately obvious Combo is uncomfortable (to put it mildly) with the presence of Milky, and he soon banishes or drives off the nicer, more thoughtful gang members, and Milky. But not Shaun, who even physically attacks Combo over an issue crucial to him, thereby gaining his undying respect and becoming his temporary mascot. Shaun even takes a grown up girl, Smell (Rosamund Hanson), as his girlfriend and the film typically skirts a line between the shocking and the sweet in showing their relationship.

Combo leads the men to a recruitment meeting of the racist National Front party and on to planned attacks on "Pakis." This rather quickly leads to disaster and tragedy. Combo is a brute, but in Meadow's vivid script and Graham's rich performance he is a complex character. At one point later he temporarily befriends Milky, and remembers that skinhead music came from Ska, and hence from black culture. The sadness of his life is illustrated when he's rejected by Lol (Vicky McClure), whom he raped when she was underage and fantasized about in prison. He hasn't a clue, but his emotional pain is real. At times he seems just as likely to burst into tears as to roar and brandish a machete. Much of the power of the film lies here: that you don't know where a scene is going to go. Violence is just around the corner, and sometimes right in the foreground, but tenderness is there. Some of the people are rotten, weak, immature, or cowardly. What makes this a good picture of adolescence is that it's so full of wounded feelings. And when you think back on it hardly anyone is more grown up than little Shaun. But for all his strength, he joins in the Paki attacks with an unnerving glee.

This is England is a queer blend of nostalgia, laughter, and shock. At moments it's painful to watch and at others disarmingly sweet. It never loses its freshness and vigor. Shaun is almost too feisty to be believed. But it doesn't seem to matter that the characters are overdrawn, because they're not one-dimensional. As someone has commented, Shaun actually grows younger as the action progresses. At the end his season in hell is over and he may be ready to be a boy again. But losing his father and living in poverty are things that keep his life from ever being calm or bland. This is a strong film. But whether its humanizing of skinheads is valid or its alternation of violence and sweetness is enlightening is hard to say. The period flavor is good, but there are various errors, staring with the fact that it's 1983, and the Falklands War is still going on (it ended in 1982). One thing is sure: that Meadows' film-making belongs to an English tradition that goes back to the Sixties neo-realism of the British New Wave, which he vigorously renews. In TwentyFourSeven, A Room for Romeo Brass, and Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, among others, Meadows has adhered consistently to the subject of youths under bad older influences in impoverished Northern England milieus. It's good stuff, and it seems to be getting better. The casting is faultless. Word is that Thomas Turgoose was turned down for a bit part in a school play due to rowdiness. Well, his rowdiness is well used here. Down with school!

This Is England, 101 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2006; many other festivals opened theatrically 27 April 2007 (UK), 27 July 2007 (USA, limited).

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 

All times are UTC - 8 hours

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 41 guests

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group