This is England closes with a beachside scene reminiscent of The 400 Blows, an apt reference even if Shane Meadows’s semi-autobiographical tale of tumultuous adolescence shoots for gritty, nostalgic realism rather than Truffaut’s heartbreaking lyricism. An opening TV slips montage of Rubik’s Cubes, Margaret Thatcher, Space Invaders, Knight Rider, and run-down residential flats sets the scene: England, July 1983, the country having just emerged from the Falklands War and experiencing rising unemployment that’s generating violent class tensions. In a drab seaside town, 12-year-old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) angrily mourns the death of his soldier father and suffers relentless bullying at school. When an older skinhead named Woody (Joe Gilgun) shows him kindness, Shaun falls into Woody’s ragamuffin gang, shaving his head, donning Doc Martens and Ben Sherman shirts, and finding outlet for his unhappiness via wanton destruction of an abandoned tenement building and, later, make-out sessions with an older girl. The bliss born from acceptance, however, quickly gives way to something more volatile and terrifying once Combo (Stephen Graham)—a paroled pal of Woody’s with racist ideas about his homeland’s true national identity—reappears and fractures the gang, in the process taking the father-less Shaun under his paternal wing. Meadows’s use of ska and hardcore music to mirror his story’s tonal shift is more adroit than the eventual resolution, which fails to properly dramatize Shaun’s epiphany regarding his chosen path. The director’s affectionate warts-and-all portrait of his milieu and subculture, however, is blistering, cogently capturing how England’s early-‘80s skinhead movement was driven less by blind racial intolerance—as evidenced by its large Afro-Caribbean constituency, here embodied by Milky (Andrew Shim)—than by intense socio-economic tensions. Turgoose’s embodiment of Shaun is thankfully light on precociousness and provides a rock-solid axis for the film’s supporting performances, the attention-grabber being Graham’s turn as the explosive, vile, and pitiful Combo, whose affinity for the National Front seems to stem from a lack of familial affection. His hatred and neediness are entwined in ways both urgent and frighteningly believable, even when his unhinged megalomania is reduced to mere tough-guy movie clichés by Meadows’s ill-advised shots of Combo and comrades strutting shoulder-to-shoulder in slow-mo.
- Shane Meadows
- Shane Meadows
- Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Joe Gilgun, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Rosamund Hanson
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