STUDIO: IFC Films
RUNNING TIME: 103 Minutes
- Deleted Scenes
- The Making of This is England
- An interview with Writer/Director Shane Meadows
- Commentary by Writer/Director Shane Meadows, Producer Mark Herbert and Lead Actor Thomas Turgoose
- Skinhead Culture: Cropped, Braced, & Booted, An Essay by Darrell Buxton
- "The Falklands: A Pathetic War," An Essay by Darrell Buxton
- Theatrical Trailer
"It’s like Lynne Ramsey got her hands on The Warriors"
Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Perry Benson, Frank Harper, Andrew Shim
Young Shaun has lost his father to war in the Falklands. Faced with dreary day-to-day existence in a small Northern England town, things start looking up when he befriends the local group of jovial skinheads. Things get complicated when Combo, an old member of the band, returns from prison with a new outlook on race relations and punching people.
I’m immediately onboard for anything having to do with A) British kitchen sinkery or B) British punk culture mixed with said kitchen sinkery. This is England is a fantastic film that happens to include both. Everything feels alive from frame to frame, whether it’s the largely improvised acting from a very charismatic cast, or the grainy grubby cinematography.
We begin with a great little montage of 80s Brit TV culture. I forgot how easy it is for Margaret Thatcher to haunt your dreams. In any case, we’re soon moved to the plight of Shaun, a kid plagued by bullies and boredom who happens to bare a striking resemblance to the younger Pete from Pete & Pete. What follows is an examination of loyalty, shifting cultures, and violence.
Goonies never say bollocks.
Shane Meadows explored similar territory before in Dead Man’s Shoes, where Paddy Considine played an ex-marine tracking down the merry band of ruffians that terrorized his disabled brother. While that film had its share of moral complications, the nuance and naturalism on display here is a huge step up. Within minutes of meeting the skinheads, not only are you charmed, but also instantly buy the group dynamics that are mostly left unsaid. Thomas Turgoose isn’t acting as Shaun so much as making new friends on set while the camera just happened to be rolling. He has a great face, and the filmmakers know to just rest the camera on his reactions. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, even down to small roles like a shoe store saleswoman that tries to fool Shaun special Doc Martins from London don’t have the logo.
One of the great strengths of the film is that it doesn’t fall into the easy traps when dealing with anything from childhood growing pains to racist idealist groups. Shaun’s mother is of course shocked to find her son come home with a shaved head, but her confrontation with the gang is authentically funny, awkward, and even tender. She may have her doubts about his new friends, but she knows that he needs this. Also delicately handled is Shaun’s first romance with a taller, older, and um… colorful skinhead (think Pink Flamingos makeup here). While it might be a stretch to call a romance that contains the line "Do you want to suck my tits?" subtle, I’m going on record.
Best Franchise Ever: Lone Wolf, Eddie Izzard, and the Marlboro Man.
Once the radical Combo comes onto the scene, cliché avoidance becomes even more important. His conflicted but largely sympathetic (as much as is possible) white supremacist has been kicked in the teeth from every conceivable angle. Rejected by most of the very friends he spent time in the clink to save, and spurned by the woman whose memory kept him going, one begins to wonder who they would lash out at under similar circumstances.
Just as Combo is pushed to the breaking point, Shaun’s baggage is the lingering memory of his father. In one of the key scenes of the film, Combo is able to recruit the naïve youngster by trading on his father’s death. The more seasoned members that wisely abandon Combo know that they aren’t going to be able to convince Shaun to leave, and that he will need to see the results of Combo’s hatred first hand to turn away. It’s an alarmingly accurate depiction of how easily the young can be indoctrinated into a lifestyle of violence. It’s also a genuinely heartbreaking moment that the film pulls off almost effortlessly.
This zombie learned to protect its brain. We are screwed.
This film’s only drawback is some occasionally lazy visual shorthand. The opening shot of the dead father’s picture above Shaun’s ringing alarm clock doesn’t necessarily have anything wrong with it, but it seems an easy technique for a movie that is otherwise so good at doing something different with even the smallest plot points. Likewise, the concluding act of defiance and rejection seems a tired trope (one begins to imagine the oceans are more polluted from people throwing things into them climatically then, you know, oil spills). However, by this point you are so taken with the characters that it’s more of an afterthought.
The film is further supported by gorgeous countryside that is well contrasted with grubby industrial sprawl and non-descript claustrophobic interiors. A suitable backdrop for a film about misdirected rage and suppressed yearnings.
Also of note is the soundtrack, which in addition to marking the period authentically just works wherever it’s used. Although, I suppose its hard to pick a bad 80’s British Punk track to match a bunch of colorful characters walking in slow motion towards the camera. In any case, it had me breaking out the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack since there’s some overlap.
This is England comes with a great commentary track with the director, star, and producer. It’s very funny, and also gives some new respect for the young actor. Apparently, early on he considered dropping out after finding the role too difficult. With the help of the director, he persevered and is immensely proud of the work he thought he couldn’t do.
Also included is an interview with the director that touches on how autobiographical the story is, as well as some more insights into skinhead culture. Further supplementing that front is an essay on the subject, as well as another on the Falklands.
The Behind The Scenes short is pretty decent for EPK type material, and contains some nice bits even though there is a lot of similar material found elsewhere.
Overall it isn’t a stacked release, but better than this type of small film usually receives and certainly well worth it.