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I was lucky enough to attend the first UK screening of Shane Meadows'
latest offering, THIS IS ENGLAND, last Tuesday at the London Film
Festival. Having been a fan of Meadows' work since seeing
TWENTYFOURSEVEN in 1998, I have anticipated each of his new films with
excitement and great interest. Meadows' films defy categorisation and
always exceed expectation, as anyone who has seen A ROOM FOR ROMEO
BRASS or DEAD MAN'S SHOES will attest. THIS IS ENGLAND had a lot to
live up to
Set during the summer of 1983, THIS IS ENGLAND is the story of Shaun (Thomas Turgoose); a precocious twelve-year-oldcoming to terms with the death of his father. Shaun is soon inducted into a group of local skinheads; a fun loving bunch who spend days committing petty vandalism and listening to ska records. Although much younger than the other members of the group, Shaun endears himself upon them with his sheer determination and defiance, and is quickly embraced as their mascot. However, the frivolity and naivety comes to an abrupt conclusion when ex-member Combo (Steven Graham) is released from a spell in prison. Combo soon causes a rift within the group and becomes the catalyst for them becoming a militant, racist force.
Anyone familiar with Meadows' earlier work will notice many parallels between this and A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS; the film is told from a child's perspective and the corruption of youth/innocence is an underlining theme. Like ROMEO BRASS, THIS IS ENGLAND manages to balance the light-hearted and often hilarious, with menace and tension that's excruciating to endure. Many British films that attempt dramedy falter because one or the other/both is unconvincing, but Meadows manages to combine comedy and drama seamlessly; the laughs come thick and fact but the jolts come harder than a kick to the head.
Typically for a Meadows film, THIS IS ENGLAND is exceptionally well written with some infectious dialogue and fully-fleshed characters, though one of the film's stand-out attributes is that of Danny Cohen's cinematography. Being a film set during the 80s, its look plays a significant part in the audience buying into the film. Many 80s-set films have been betrayed by garish lighting and ultimately end up looking like contemporary people parading around in 20-year-old clothing. Cohen's photography really manages to encapsulate the bleak feeling that was evident of the time, and is both gritty and dour. THIS IS ENGLAND is a film without polished aesthetics and one that has the raw visual style that's not be seen since the films of Alan Clarke (SCUM, MADE IN Britain, THE FIRM).
In addition to the film's look, Meadow's has raided the vaults for a whole host of archive footage leading thirty-something viewers on a trip down memory lane. The credit sequence alone features footage from Roland Rat, the Falklands and Knight Rider; As a child of the 80s, I literally sat in the cinema beaming It's a great hook into a wonderful film.
As assured as Meadows' writing and direction is, the film benefits greatly from its ensemble cast. Predominantly made up of teenagers, the cast of THIS IS ENGLAND excel beyond belief, without one putting a foot wrong. A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS' Andrew Shim is superb as Milky, as is Stephen Graham as Combo - who gives a terrific and complex performance. However, THIS IS ENGLAND belongs to Thomas "Tommo" Tugoose for a débutant child actor he is astonishing and effortlessly conveys the array of mixed emotions the material requires.
In conclusion, THIS IS ENGLAND is essential viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in film. Once again Meadows has set a precedent for British filmmakers and has eclipsed many of his contemporaries. THIS IS ENGLAND may not make for comfortable viewing but it is cinema at its best.
I just saw "This Is England" at the Berlin Film Festival where it was
screened in the section "Generation 14P". This section is an extension
of the former "Kinderfilmfest" for teenagers between 14 and 18 -
dealing with more mature issues.
I had no clue about it, just that it would be about skinheads in England and that it takes place in the 80s. I wasn't expecting much, hoping for something like a British version of "American History X" - I got a lot more.
When I left the theater I was absolutely stunned! Cast and script were outstanding. I loved the rough editing and grainy camera style that made the movie look a real 80s flick! And last but not least: the soundtrack is a blast! And coming from a director who used to be part of the real scene, it might be the most authentic picture about skinheads ever made.
Although it didn't get as much attention as the Hollywood films that had their premiere at the Berlinale Palast, it's a lot stronger than almost all the films in competition.
I hope it will make its way the movies and not end up as a direct-to-video-flick... 10/10
After the success of 'Dead Man's Shoes' local filmmaker Shane Meadows returns with 'This is England' a story of absence and isolation, belonging and the power of persuasion. Set in 1983 with a backdrop of the war in the Falklands the film opens with a montage of relevant images everything from Maggie Thatcher to Knight Rider that really take you back and put you in the right space to meet Shaun. Shaun the films central character (played superbly by newcomer Thomas Turgoose) is a typical eighties kid, riding round on his griffter, washing neighbours cars for cash to buy a catapult and being constantly picked on for being different. When we first meet him we quickly learn that his father was a victim of the war raging at Maggie's command. Enter the gang Woody, Milky, Pukey, et all, a rag tag bunch of mods and skinheads complete with crimped haired girlfriends, with the absence of his father and any real sense of being part of something Shaun is quickly welcomed into the group and takes up not just the mannerisms or clothes but drinking, smoking and growing up to quickly. Things go OK for a while until Combo arrives on the scene. Straight out of prison and a British blooded skinhead through to his core you can sense trouble on the horizon. Soon the gang becomes segmented because of differences of opinion and fuelled by the war and the council estate mentality of accepting foreigners' things start to spiral out of control and Shaun finds himself in way above his head. A brilliantly written script that can at times have you laughing out loud and at others sitting nervously on the edge of your seat as the tension builds is delivered well by all the cast. The music is fitting, mixing eighties chart hits with haunting piano pieces and the cinematography is close to a previous Meadows outing 'A Room for Romeo Brass' which gives it a feel like it was filmed in the eighties. The attention to detail is brilliant as shop shelves are laden with products we no longer see or have long since upgraded there packaging. One of the scariest things was it was hard to imagine that time in this country because any of us who lived through it have almost chosen to block it out completely, but it was done so well and had me fishing in my memory to fit things into the time scale being used. There is defiantly a more matured Meadows at work here but he's lost none of his cheeky charm and observational skill and the characters he's created could have easily have lived next door to me growing up. The metaphor of the country getting behind Thatcher in the Falklands juxtaposed with that of the skinheads, including the initiated Shaun, getting behind the slightly off kilter Combo is handled with a great sense of poignancy and it is moving to see both stories unfold from within the film and library footage. Racism and intolerance are by no means behind us but here we are shown one of the skeletons in the Great British (sic) closet through the eyes of a child and one who would grow up to represent the next generation. Meadows has said in interviews that it is partly based on his experiences growing up and he sees a lot of himself in Shaun, I saw a lot of me in the character but I also saw memories I'd have rather forgotten. Funny, British and bleak Meadows is slowly climbing the ranks to join the Mike Leigh's and Ken Loach's of this world and if this film is anything to go by it wont take him very long. Any fan of Meadows previous work will love it and no doubt delight in his continuing growth as a filmmaker but everyone should see it regardless as it is another fine example of British film at its rawest and best.
Fellow Midlander Shane Meadows has produced not only his finest work to
date but one of the very best films to come out of Britain that I have
ever had the pleasure of viewing. Just as the effectively chilling,
bloody (yet arguably flawed) "Dead Man's Shoes" showcased a passionate
return to low budget, focused film making, "This Is England" sees him
perfect his technique. It is a seemingly effortless achievement that
matches a warm, humorous portrayal of a young lad growing up with his
experience of the cold brutality that came with the 80s skinhead
culture. The way in which Shane blends these two aspects together
without compromising on either is most impressive.
Delivering a surprising, enchanting performance in the lead role as Shaun, Thomas Turgoose portrays a youngster of incredible warmth and charisma. He is befriended by a relatively harmless gang skirting with the skinhead culture rife at the time. His strength of character in the face of the adversity life throws his way is truly unforgettable, a credit to both Shane as the writer and Thomas as the performer. As Shaun discovers the joy of "belonging" in the gang, the viewer takes a similar journey. Through sublime use of another excellent soundtrack (an ear for music in relation to visuals is one of Shane's most loved and respected trademarks) the joy of youth and life literally springs from the screen.
What is particularly successful is Shane's restraint where it comes to grounding the film in reality. It would have been all too easy to escalate these events above and beyond the core group of characters, creating a power struggle on a much bigger, thrill friendly scale. Instead the film remains focused and convincing, not once do you doubt the likelihood of events. The canvas may be smaller but emotionally "This Is England" resonates more powerfully than ever before, taking the harsh, greys of a story like "Dead Man's Shoes" and enlightening it with a central character full of warmth and honesty. In the end this serves to engage the viewer on a much greater level.
It is in comedy that "This Is England" truly surprises, not the usual splash of dark humour but humour of much broader appeal. Thomas' performance brings the sharp dialogue to life with a wonderful physical range, the first half the film is crammed with delightful comic moments that really draw you in to the character, making future events all the more affecting. Much is made of Shaun's romance with a much older girl, the scenes are tear-jerking in their tender, wonderfully observed realism. There is much in the film that will trigger moments of recognition in the viewer, especially (but not exclusively) those who were young in the 80s.
As big time skinhead Combo (the other stand out performance of the piece from Scouser Stephen Graham) comes out of jail the film takes a U-Turn, presenting a troubling, unrestrained view on racism through extreme nationalism, getting deep under the skin to question the source and nature of such hatred. It is in this that we realise this is a study of human nature as Shaun is presented with more extreme acts that drive him to question the moral behind such irrational prejudices.
Book ending the film is real news footage of the political climate surrounding the events depicted, prominent among which is Maggie Thatcher's invasion of the Falklands (a conflict that's consequences prove key to the central narrative) When asked "Will we ever talk to the Argentines again?" on a radio interview Thatcher purrs "No I don't think so" The parallels are fitting and thoroughly engaging. Inspired, shaped and formed by Shane's own childhood, "This Is England" is ultimately an honest, confident piece of film making right from the heart. The film is a wonderful example of what British cinema has to offer the world. The film may be grounded in period authenticity, but the narrative is ultimately applicable to all of us, having experienced the inescapable process of growing up. Shaun's quality shines through, his experienced may be unique but the messages conveyed are most certainly universal.
There is no doubt that this film is a truly great piece of film-making.
Shane Meadows crafts films in the same style as Martin Scorcese. We are
given a glimpse into the lifestyle of a group of characters over a
short period of time. It is very much a fly on the wall type of movie.
The point of these films is to understand the actions of the characters
rather than judging their actions. I have no doubt that there will be
some people that tag this film as being racist which is rather missing
The film follows Shaun a 12 year old being borough up in early 80's England. He has lost his father in the Falklands war and suffers bullying and isolation until he is befriended by a group of skinheads. The happy band are challenged when Combo is released from prison. Thomas Turgoose is magnificent in the lead role and the direction/screenplay are also spot on the mark. For anybody that lived through the period there are lots of reminders about the period. The film is based on Meadow's own childhood and is quite mesmerising at times.
I was gripped throughout the film and it also gave me plenty to think about afterwards. What more can you ask for when going to the movies? I suppose if you go to the movies for escapism then go watch something else, but if you want a gripping thought provoking drama then it doesn't come much better than this. Outstanding!
'This is England' is a must see for the type of persons who enjoy a
good old 'innocence of youth' narrative (including a very comedic,
almost cringe inducing, 'first kiss' scene) layered with powerful
retrospective British realism reflecting early 1980's societal issues
of the type that you wont see on any saccharin dipped 'i remember 1982'
Based largely around the 'skinhead' activities of the early eighties its interesting to note that the story really draws distinctions between the types of skinheads - the nazi/racist and the two-tone/soul loving skinheads.
Much like Mr Meadows other outings which tend to include a lot of relatively unknown and TV only actors/actresses, they all throw in sterling performances, particularly Stephen 'snatch' Graham as 'Combo'(sp.?) and the unknown Thomas Turgoose as young 'Sean'(sp?).
The soundtrack is as usual strategically lined up to help convey with the overall look and feel, with musical styles ranging from reggae (toots and the maytals), punk and two tone. It does however include new music presumably for a soundtrack album sales point of view, what with the most underrated Clayhill covering The Smiths(?).
overall: its as retrospective sharp as it is thought provoking, so if you lived anywhere near this time then see it: you may just like it. I you didn't then learn from this time in history when skin heads were either very open minded or very closed minded.
The skinhead culture fascinates many directors and it's understandable.
It's one of the few remaining subcultures in the West, much because of
the Nazi connections.
But the skins in this movie aren't political and no racists to start with. One of the gang members is even black. They live in a happy community in the early 80s, having fun and being together in a totally grey unfriendly working class environment. It's very hopeful and the 12-year-old finds himself accepted for the first time in his life. His longing for the dead father of the Falklands war is somewhat replaced.
But darkness arrives with the skin veteran who comes back from jail. And there are conflicts between the racist fraction and the others. But whatever this is, it's not black and white. The characters are much more complicated.
Much has been said about young Thomas Turgoose as the 12-year-old. He's very good but the great portrait is by Stephen Graham as the old/new gang leader. Absolutely brilliant work.
I wouldn't normally bother inflicting my opinion on others via this
database. However, I felt compelled to re-iterate all the positive
reviews and comments I've seen here and elsewhere for this truly
I was lucky enough to be given a free ticket for the BFI Festival viewing last Tuesday. A wonderful woman (now known as Lily) collared me in the queue for tickets and generously offered me a spare.
We sat down and I knew things were looking good when the cast were introduced but eschewed the usual Q&A session by quickly introducing themselves and asking us to simply enjoy the film adding that if anyone had any questions at the end they'd be milling around for a chat.
Anyway, enough of the preamble, to the film - it's an exemplary piece of work beautifully encapsulating the feelings of the eighties. The avarice of that time (both political and economic) juxtaposed against the heightened sense of revolt against a Thatcherite government that truly didn't seem to give a toss about anyone who wasn't on the gravy train.
The script is razor sharp and the acting excellent! I'm not going to waste your time reviewing it but I will say, please go and see it for yourself (especially if you were growing up during the eighties)...
You'll be rewarded with a superb soundtrack, laughter, sadness and at times real, palpable, tension.
Love & Rockets, Lord E.
A snippet of life in 1983- told through the eyes of an impressionable
12 year old-against the back-drop of the Falklands War.
This film shows Director Shane Meadows at his best, a new generation Mike Leigh/Ken Loach. Gritty, ultra-real story telling (not least because it reflects time and events from Meadows own childhood.
From the outside this movie might look like an all out "Doom and Gloom" exercise (akin to Nil By Mouth?), but it is so much more! It has a great sense of love and nostalgia for the time and place-not too mention the Skinhead culture. However, it also shows how the initially innocent fashion trend of the Skinhead- which came from the "Mods" and "Ska" music scene- was twisted and subverted by a racist element from within. Fashioning a striking look (near bald heads with imposing Dr Martin boots) a perfect foil for those wanting to make a clear impression of aggression for the National Front.
Performances are great- Turgoose as the young fatherless lonely boy- searching for someone to lead the way. Special mention to Stephen Graham as the aggressive, neo-Nazi, Combo. He is a horribly violent man, but played with such depth by Graham, you can see he has his own issues which have destroyed him. Ultimately, he is the saddest and most tragic of all the characters in it.Graham's is an Oscar/Bafta performance if ever there was one! Summary- A brilliant slice of life from the 80's reconstructed with love , affection, humour and a dash of "Venom"- eat your heart out "Spideyman"!
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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