A story about a troubled boy growing up in England, set in 1983. He comes across a few skinheads on his way home from school, after a fight. They become his new best friends even like family. Based on experiences of director Shane Meadows.
This is England: Mods, New Romantics, and Skinheads are the major youth sub-cultures of this very English summer of 1983 and young 12-year-old Shaun is left wandering aimlessly alone and lost during the start of his school holidays, until his chance meeting with Woody and his fun and friendly Skinhead pack. Finding a new lease of life; girls, parties, Ben Sherman shirts, Doc Martin boots and shaven hairstyles young Shaun is welcomed, life during this summer holiday has got a whole lot better. That is until Combo arrives on the scene bitter, dangerous, racist, militant and psychotic life for young Shaun has just approached his first major crossroads. This is England is a look back at the early eighties of British working-class life through the eyes of young Shaun and his new gang, and dealing with the bitterness of outside influences such as racism and xenophobia, of mass unemployment and the fall out of the Falkland's War; Thatcher's Britain: Did we ever have it so good? When you see ... Written by
Seen at: BFI - London Film Festival Shane Medows take on pro-Nazi minority groups comes at a time where racist extremism is uncannily blurred itself out of the picture. Although we are familiar with the non less aesthetic fear to terrorist attacks by fundamentalist Muslim groups, we have somehow forgot the 'collateral' damage that could arise in the eve of a Paris-suburb-style racial riot.
This is England perpetuates a picture of a country not far from the one we are overlooking now but puts aside the blossoming images sold to the outside world of a hectic and prosperous London and a gay Brighton. The film takes us back to the Thatcher years in a clearly accentuated north of England ridden by jobless youth and financially stretch families, encapsulating a small landscape of issues that stirred the nation under the "Iron Lady's rule".
Medows takes us in what could be described as the "deep England journey". North of the black underground line lay other counties where unemployment and lack of cultural resources are becoming predecessors for extremist thoughts. Social tensions are on the rise, and a new radical party, The National Front is taking advantage of the situation by blending anger and national pride, rallying people around the country.
Matching the style of Mathieu Kassovitz (also director and writer) in La Haine, historical footage of the époque is embedded in between frames to illustrate the social expression of society. Furthermore, Danny Cohen's photography beautifully sets the landscape for the characters to take centre stage.
The storyline evolves around a social micro-cosmos. The characters represent the blue print of residual society, perpetuated in the form of Shaun (Thomas Turgoose). At a very young age, Shaun has already endured the loose of his father at the Falklands War as well as facing financial hardship. He stands daily bulling from school peers, which brings him to state of outcast.
He then becomes approached by an urban tribe of Ska-mod skin-heads. The group takes him under its wing as if a sort of mascot, although Shaun quickly becomes a strong character within the group, thanks to his stand up attitude. The group is soon divided by the return of old gang member Combo (Steven Graham) after a brief term in prison. Combo represents the pro-Nazi skinheads versus the fun loving petty vandalism of the Ska music and mod style teenagers.
Steven Graham work deserves a standing ovation, far away of easy slapstick pop-corn performance he produced in Snatch (Guy Ritchie). Nevertheless his impressive characterisation of Combo is somehow overshadowed by Thomas Turgoose first ever acting role. Although presented at a later stage in the movie as the anti hero, it is impossible not to feel for his profound facial expression and sympathise with his early age portrayal of innocence.
Despite all round notable performances from the rest of the cast, I feel terribly let down by Jo Hartley's mediocre interpretation as Shaun's mother; however this can be considered a minor decay to an all round great piece of contemporary art.
This is England crosses the boundary of the purely British audience oriented motion picture to a larger scale scenario where its intricacies are presented in manners which well enable the international audience to get a small picture of a bigger problem.
In a world that tries to trade our eyes for feelings by diverting our attention to the big picture, such as United 93, it might be of some use to stop and stare at the small picture. This little, yet well behaved movie, might allow us to adapt our eyes to the dark and pay more attention to detail.
By Jordi Llàtzer
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