Thursday, January 17, 2008


“Well, although I would never say this is a biography of Shane Meadows, I think the characters (specifically in This Is England) are based very much around my youth growing up in the hills and small towns. I would go around with a certain type of kids, participate in the random acts of violence, was very into the skinhead movement because all of my friends were skinheads. I wasn’t the most popular kid in school so I went around with a group of older kids, some of whom were good to me, some who just liked to have me there to pick on. But they did make me feel like a part of their group, which is why I did a lot of what I did.”
-- Shane Meadows (July 2007)

It’s summer in England, 1983, and Shaun Field (Thomas Turgoose) is a 13-year-old who’s lost his da to the Falklands War. Isolated and picked on, Shaun feels the first twinges of the transformation his life is about to undergo when he chances upon a group of local skinhead youths led by Woody (Joe Gilgun), who takes a shine to Shaun and gradually inducts him into their gang.
That’s the basic premise of Shane Meadows’ This Is England, a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of a country troubled by a questionable war and a flood of immigrants, while splinters of the skinhead movement continued to mutate into a decidedly darker, and more brutal animal.

Meadows’ script is almost neatly split into two sections (a two tone, if you will), the film’s first half chronicling Shaun’s absorption into Woody’s social circle, while the second half is viewed under the encroaching shadow of Combo (Snatch’s Tommy, Stephen Graham), an older skinhead who’s just been released from a three-and-a-half year stint in prison.
Tellingly, Combo’s introduction into the narrative occurs at the same time as Shaun’s first real taste of the opposite gender—as found in young Strawberry Switchblader, Smell, played by Rosamund Hanson—as if to suggest that sex and violence are two of the cruxes to be found in the adult world, which waits on the opposite end of this pivotal summer.

Meadows places his script in the hands of a largely young cast, and is rewarded with some naturalistic performances, particularly from Turgoose and Gilgun.
The revelation here though is Graham, who obliterates the image of the goofy sidekick he portrayed in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, and delivers a textured performance as the film’s ostensible antagonist.

Before Combo’s entry, there’s an aching tenderness to be found in This Is England’s first half, as Woody takes Shaun in, not only making him part of a larger whole, but also providing the young boy with a male role model to emulate and admire.
But even throughout this section of the film, I dreaded the other Doc dropping, somehow thinking that Woody’s interest in Shaun would end in betrayal and rejection.
And perhaps it still did, but only in light of the gloom caused by Combo’s arrival, which opens the door for Shaun to enter a world of hate and racism.
But of course, like any proper coming-of-age tale, there comes a point in the narrative where Shaun is forced to make that final, fateful decision, as to what kind of man he will be when he enters the realm of adulthood, whether as a foot soldier for prejudice, or someone hopefully better than that.

Ultimately, This Is England is a slice of young life that offers up a snapshot of a time before the Internet and cell phones, a time of Rubik’s Cubes and Lady Di and Thatcher’s England, when a young boy’s lot was, sadly, still the same as it is today: to find a father figure who can help lead him into the world of adults, and, barring that, to hopefully stumble into it with the least amount of scarring possible.

Parting shot: Being a sucker for the Cinematic Musical Moment, Meadows’ use of the Clayhill cover of The Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” just slayed me, trumping the Ducky-pining-for-Andie-in-his-lonely-room scene from Howard Deutch’s Pretty In Pink.

Parting shot 2: This Is England has been nominated at the 2008 BAFTAs for Best British Film and Original Screenplay, and it also got a healthy number of nods at the BIFA 2006.
Out of 7 nominations, This Is England won awards for Best British Independent Film (beating out Stephen Frears’ The Queen, among others) and brought home the Most Promising Newcomer for Thomas Turgoose (who beat out strong contenders from Brothers of the Head and The History Boys).
Its other nominations were for Best Director of a British Independent Film, two nods for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor or Actress in a British Independent Film (Joseph Gilgun and Stephen Graham), Best Screenplay, and Best Technical Achievement (Ludovico Einaudi, Original Music).
This Is England also found its way onto the 2007 Top Ten Films lists of Newsweek critic David Ansen (# 3) and Los Angeles Times critic Kevin Crust (# 9).

Parting shot: You can check out the 2008 BAFTA nominations I’m excited about in Afterthoughts (41), in the Archive.
The complete lists of nominees and winners at the BIFA 2006 can be found at

(The Shane Meadows quote at the top of the review comes from the director’s interview with Benjamin Crossley-Marra of You can find the complete interview here.)

(This Is England UK quad courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of; images courtesy of

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