This Is England
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary with director Shane Meadows, producer Mark Herbert and lead actor Thomas Turgoose; Behind the Scenes; Deleted scenes; Guardian interview with Shane Meadows at BFI Southbank; Interview with Shane Meadows; Interview with Mark Herbert; Production Departments: Hair, Make-up and Costumes; Crew interviews & Rehearsals; Production Design; Theatrical Trailer; Essays on Skinheads and The Falklands War; Cast Biographies.
RAW, powerful, bitingly funny and occasionally brutal, This Is England arguably rates as Shane Meadows’ finest work to date.
Inspired by key moments in the director’s early life, the film offers a telling snapshot of 1980s England that also contains frightening parallels for people today.
Opening with a montage that briefly touches upon ’80s pop culture (Roland Rat et al), the film then puts forward images of The Falklands War and the angry response it drew back home. It’s against this backdrop that events unfold…
At the start of the ’83 Summer holiday, 12-year-old Shaun (Thomas ‘Tommo’ Turgoose) is still struggling to get over the loss of his soldier father when he befriends the jovial Woody (Joe Gilgun), the leader of a gang of young skinheads who seek nothing more than enjoying life.
Adopted as one of the group, Shaun quickly finds a sense of family his home life can no longer provide and even takes the first tentative steps towards unlikely romance.
But when the group’s former leader Combo (Stephen Graham) returns from prison life takes a darker turn. Combo is a hardened, racist skinhead with right-wing beliefs who determines to turn his colleagues into action takers.
He subsequently become a father-figure to Shaun and begins to instil him with the virtues he believes will help shape a new generation. But when things take an unexpectedly violent turn, Shaun is faced with a number of tough decisions…
In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, the film could easily have lost its way and invited accusations of racism. But Meadows treats the subject matter with the sensitivity it deserves and delivers both a touching coming-of-age tale and a scathing look at ’80s politics that has plenty of contemporary relevance – primarily, disillusionment with a war effort and the racist element this invariably courts.
What makes it even more memorable, though, is the power of the performances. Thomas Turgoose, in particular, is mesmerising as Shaun, effortlessly combining the innocence and corruptibility of a boy on the cusp of adulthood whose yearning for a father figure exposes a tragic young heart. It’s a performance to surpass that of any child actor this year and fully merits a Bafta nomination at the very least.
But Stephen Graham also excels as Combo, a racist thug who still manages to appear sympathetic on occasion. It’s a layered performance that ensures the film offers no easy answers and steers well clear of easy stereotype.
Both actors help to ensure that This Is England will stand head and shoulders above most other releases as one of the finest films of the year. It maintains a vice-like grip from breezy start to poignant finish.
Running time: 1hr 43mins