by Allan Fish
(UK 2010 184m) DVD2
Countdown from 13…
p Rebekah Wray Rogers, Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger d Shane Meadows, Tom Harper w Shane Meadows, Jack Thorne ph Danny Cohen ed Mark Eckersley, Chris Wyatt m Ludovico Einaudi art Lisa Hall
Vicky McClure (Lol), Joseph Gilgun (Woody), Thomas Turgoose (Shaun Fields), Danielle Watson (Trev), George Newton (Banjo), Perry Benson (Meggy), Chanel Cresswell (Kelly), Andrew Shim (Milky), Andrew Ellis (Gadget), Rosamund Hanson (Smell), Joseph Dempsie (Higgy), Perry Fitzpatrick (Flip), Jo Hartley (Cynthia Fields), Katharine Dow Blyton (Chrissy), Johnny Harris (Mick), Kriss Dosanjh (Mr Sandhu), Hannah Walters (Trudy), Michael Socha (Harvey), Stephen Graham (Combo),
On its general release in 2007, This is England was receiving bouquets from just about everyone who saw it. “This is British cinema” said Peter Bradshaw. It is indeed, Peter, and very fine cinema at that, but after watching it I was left with a feeling that it could have been so much more, that it just petered out. An excellent film, probably Meadows’ best, but dare I hope for more. A symbolic sequence on a beach with Thomas Turgoose’s Shaun tossing the St George flag into the sea resounded with memories of Truffaut, and it’s perhaps not inappropriate, for just as Antoine Doinel was Truffaut by proxy, so Shaun Fields, the 12 year old at the heart of This is England, was Meadows.
Several years on Meadows returned to Shaun, as Truffaut did several times with Doinel, but not just to Shaun. Unlike Antoine Doinel, the central character is only part of the canvas, just one of those characters leaning against the wall in the original film’s iconic poster. And like another of Meadows’ idols, Alan Clarke, he would do so this time on TV, at a time of the 1986 World Cup and unemployment over three million.
’86 begins with what one can only assume is an outtake from the original film, with Combo, the vicious skinhead who so nearly turned Shaun to the bad, being left by Shaun after the near killing inflicted by Combo. One cut and it’s over three years later, Shaun is sitting his last CSE and he has abandoned his old friends, who he feels don’t want anything to do with him. Woody is preparing to marry Lol but gets cold feet at the last minute, while Milky holds feelings for Lol himself. Shaun finds out that his mum is having an affair with her boss and storms out disgusted, while Lol’s father returns, who it transpires used to sexually abuse her and Lol fears that he may also abuse her sister Kelly.
There’s the usual blackly comic moments here, from a hilarious scene of Meggy’s son dressed up as Dogtanian while an estate scrap takes place, of Gadget’s being made to dress up like Clark Gable by his domineering older woman, and of a local hoodlum’s pathetic ideas to get inside the pants of a girl who he wants to seem sensitive to. Behind it all, however, there’s a sense of decay that permeates the best rites of passage films, in this case a festering cancer. One would be forgiven for thinking that Combo would be the said cancer when he returns for the last act, but in an act of altruistic redemption, he sacrifices himself just to allow him to do, in his own words, one good thing. To take the rap for the death of one of life’s true lowlifes, who we witness terrify and rape one of the brood before getting a long overdue comeuppance. It’s scenes like this that temper any feelings of nostalgia, while at the same time emphasising the nature of family amongst this ungodly, rag tag brood, all so familiar but different to when we last saw them; Woody now has hair like Noel Gallagher, Smell now looks like Divine in Pink Flamingos gone goth, while Lol has a Eurythmics obsession. We love them one and all, with Gilgun, Benson, Hanson and Watson perfect, McClure stunning, Turgoose growing up before our eyes in every sense and Graham festering like an open wound who finds a way to cauterise it that will leave everyone literally floored. Superbly directed and written, it’s about the collective experience of a group of people at a time and at a place in the suburban hell of Thatcher’s Sheffield, echoing the spirit of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’. When they sung of a teenage wasteland over a decade earlier, it’s here.