This Is England: Film Review

"This Is England" directed by Shane Meadows

Synopsis: It's 1983 and school is out.  Twelve year old Shaun is a lonely boy growing up in a grim coastal town in northern England, whose father died fighting in the Falklands war.  Over the course of the summer holiday he befriends a group of local skinheads.  With his pent up rage and frustration, Shuan finds exactly what he needs in the gang-mischief, mayhem and brotherhood.  He also meets the volatile and boorish, Combo, an older skinhead who sees himself in Shaun.  Adopting Shuan as his protégé, Combo leads the gang down a hate spewing path that culminates in an irreversible act of violence. 

Thomas Turgoose as Shaun

The film is directed by Shane Meadows a newcomer filmmaker who drew upon his own personal life experiences to evoke a vintage time in history that is often overlooked, that of skinhead culture in the early eighties.  Skinheads have overall acquired a bad name due to connections to far right groups such as The British National Party.  The truth in the matter is that skinheads can be either far left or far right as well as anything in between because it was much more of a fashion and music trend than a political movement until many of these misled youth were taken advantage of by those far right parties such as the BNP. This led to the misconception that all skinheads are neo-Nazis. 

Andrew Ellis as Gadget, Andrew Shim as Milky, Kieran Hardcastle as Kes, Joe Gilgun as Woody and Jack O’Connell as Pukey Nicholls

Skinhead culture was born out of influence from the rude boy customs of the West Indies and Mod culture of the sixties.  Despite the fact that skinheads are almost always associated with racism it is ironic that the very music they listen to was given birth by people whom racists claim to be inferior.  Skinheads listened to Ska music which originated in Jamaica, wore Dr. Martens work boots to show pride for being working class and of course shaved their heads.  The film shows that not all skinheads are bigoted bastards but that it was also a cultural movement not unlike the mods of the Sixties or the punks of the late Seventies.       

From left to right. Chanel Cresswell as Kelly, Vicky McClure as Lol, Danielle Watson as Trev and Thomas Turgoose as Shaun

For anyone who assumes that English people spend their lives drinking tea and cultivating their rose gardens should watch This is England for a reality slap in the face. This Is England has been said to be a depressing reminder of many an English youth, jogging their memories of a grey, concrete and abandoned world of greasy fish and chip wrappers, cold tea and stray dogs with soggy chins.

Stephen Graham as Combo in THIS IS ENGLAND written and directed by Shane Meadows.

My hands down favorite character in This Is England is Combo, played by actor Stephen Graham who has previously starred in Snatch by Guy Ritchie and Gangs of New York by Martin Scorsese.  Combo becomes a father figure to the young and impressionable Shaun who would give anything just to have his dad back.  Combo also has a lot of inhibited anger that detonates in very terrifying ways.  Although Combo displays a considerable amount of intolerance and racial abomination, he still has a vulnerability about him and one can draw conclusions that he is the way he is because of a possibly dejected upbringing rather than because he is an evil person.  I think overall Combo inspires sympathy rather than disdain. 

Thomas Turgoose as Shaun in THIS IS ENGLAND written and directed by Shane Meadows.

A very interesting thing to note about actor Stephen Graham in the role of Combo is the fact that in real life, Graham is actually of mixed race.  Born and raised in Liverpool, Graham's father is black and his mother is of Swedish decent.  According to director Shane Meadows he had no idea of this when he asked Graham to play the role of Combo but when he found out he said "This is the best thing I've ever heard in my life!"  He realized that was the essence he was looking for in the film because the film doesn't necessarily have to do with color and race but more with identity and belonging. 

This Is England has already won awards from The British Independent Film Awards and the Rome International Film Festival for best film and best newcomer.  This Is England opens in Los Angeles on Friday, August 3rd at Landmark's Nuart Theatre.       


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