This Is England


This is... vindication. After four features, squillions of shorts and much acclaim, the barrel-bodied bard of bittersweet Brit-realism hit paydirt with his fifth flick. Released in April, Shane Meadows’ tragicomic tale of a 12-year-old boy – tellingly named Shaun Fields (Thomas Turgoose) – torn between skinhead factions in 1983, out-grossed his other features combined. The lesson? Stick with what you know...

After the starry flop of Once Upon A Time In The Midlands and critical rehabilitation with back-to-basics Dead Man’s Shoes, Meadows’ tried-and-tested ingredients are all here: largely unknown actors, workshop-built characterisations, location shooting and a Room For Romeo Brass-ish tale of youth tussling with choices.

The film is a riot – searching but funny, sweet but dark, aglow with nostalgia but clear-sighted about bruised naivety. And the two-disc set’s made-to-match extras show how Meadows creates an environment to set the world he knows alight on screen. The giggly commentary and energised rehearsals make you want to be there. But there’s sensitivity and smarts here, too. In workshops, Meadows, Stephen Graham (Combo, bad skinhead) and Kriss Dosanjh (Mr Sandhu, shopkeeper) nurture Turgoose. A shame, then, about the 18 certificate: a movie with so many pertinent, moral things to say regarding youth surely deserves to be seen by the very souls it’s about. Far be it from us to encourage underage viewing, but it’s gratifying to think DVD will broaden the film’s audience…

And what a movie. If Morell in Romeo Brass was the Scorsese-loving Meadows’ Taxi Driver homage, this is his Gangs Of Middle England, with its tensions over notions of nation, charismatic but all-too-human monster and fatherless central kid. And Turgoose is its heart: cocky yet shy, world-weary yet innocent, he makes you believe he could be led astray and wrestle with the consequences. In the interviews, Meadows says he made similar choices as a kid. He went astray with Once Upon..., too, but he’s back from that brink. This is... something to celebrate.


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