Sunday, September 23, 2007
THIS IS ENGLAND (2006) - Shane Meadows
Shane Meadows is quickly becoming one of the top writer-directors in the industry. His films are imbued with a reality that is very reminiscent of films of Ken Loach. After making the brilliant 2004 film, Dead Man’s Shoes, Meadows gets personal with the film This Is England, a semi-autobiographical account of a twelve year old’s experiences of 1983 Britain and the skinhead culture that was prevalent at the time. It was a time where Britain was struggling with crises both at home and abroad. Crises that made many people question their national identity and their position in society.
This Is England opens with a montage of television images from the early 1980s. Unemployed miners, National Front marches, royal weddings, people playing with Rubik’s cubes and Space Invaders and images from the Falklands War set up the era we’re being transported to. We meet Shaun. An only child, he lives with his mother. His father recently died in the Falklands. Shaun is bullied in school, he’s picked on for his hand-me-down clothes, a symptom of his family’s poverty. Shaun falls in with a gang of skinheads who accept him as one of their own. He immediately finds a place with the group of misfits. However, the situation turns sour when Combo arrives on the scene. Having been recently released from prison, Combo has learned some pretty controversial views while locked up, views he shares with the gang. While giving one particularly racist speech, he invokes images of the soldiers dying in the Falklands, something that really hits home with Shaun. Shaun becomes somewhat of a protégé for Combo. However the volatile nature of Combo, and deep insecurities in him put him, and those who associate with him on a course for tragedy.
While I’m sure it wasn’t Meadow’s intention when making This Is England to make a film that reflects the state of society today, there are definitely parallels with attitudes of the time and the attitudes of some now. However, this film isn’t some sort of moral lesson. It’s an incredibly personal account of Meadows’ experiences during a time of great social upheaval. These experiences are documented brilliantly by Meadows’ script and direction. There is rarely a moment in the film that doesn’t feel incredibly authentic. As Shaun is accepted by the group of skinheads, you do really feel the loyalty and friendship that exists between the friends. Even when Combo appears, you still have a sense of the loyalty that existed before he went to prison for Woody, the ‘leader’ of Shaun’s friends. As Combo delivers his state of the nation speech to the young, impressionable youths, the tension is palpable. The scene reminded me of a similar one in American History X, however, Meadows direction creates a far more believable scene.
Meadows’ cast is also outstanding. Newcomer Thomas Turgoose is instantly believable as Shaun. He’s an angry, volatile, impressionable child and Turgoose perfectly captures his innocence when he’s with a girl for the first time, and the rage he exhibits when attacking Combo for mentioning the Falklands or instigating a racist attack on a shopkeeper. Credit must also be given to Stephen Graham (Snatch, Gangs of New York) as Combo. It would be very easy for someone to play the racist bad guy as a one-dimensional caricature, spitting national pride and racism in equal quantities. Instead, you can see Combo’s a very damaged character. Rejected by a girl he was infatuated with and searching for something to cling to, racism is his outlet. The rest of the cast, made up of unfamiliar faces are all excellent as the people inhabiting the era.
Few films capture reality as convincingly as This Is England. From the script to the cast and the direction, there is very little to take away from the film. It’s clear from the film that the events in it come from a very personal place for Shane Meadows. While the film doesn’t tackle the social questions on a large scale, it’s a story about people from a small town, Meadow’s definitely touches on the highly questionable ideas raised at the time. Questions that are being asked once again by some due to the volatile politics in the world right now. But at the end of the day, This Is England is a film. And as such, it needs to entertain. And there’s no worry there. Meadows is a brilliant writer and director and This Is England confirms this.