Thursday, 3 May 2007

Must see movie this month: This is England- review by Emma J Lennox

Director: Shane Meadows
Screenwriter: Shane Meadows
Runtime: 100 min
Certificate: 18
Release Date: out now

Shane Meadows is truly at home with his latest release, This is England. Filmed in his home town of Nottingham with a cast of friends and non-professionals ,Meadows brings to the screen an autobiographical tale and his most compelling feature to date. The year is 1983, Thatcher is in her stride, the Falklands islands are a mess and civil unrest is widespread, but in the midst of this turbulence is a boy looking for acceptance. 12 year old Shaun Fields (Thomas Turgoose) has lost his father in the Falklands war and has become an outcast and a loner. He fends off taunts and abuse throughout the school day and although he tries to give as good as he gets, the sense of injustice overwhelms him. Shaun suffers the familiar childhood feeling that life is unfairly stacked against him, but it seems in his case that he might just be right. Turgoose's performance is most remarkable (and award winning) because he doesn't appear to be acting; his tears are as heartbreaking as his laughter is infectious. This is England is led by the force of Turgoose's personality, who brings depth beyond his years.

Set to a soulful Ska soundtrack of Toots and The Maytals and The Specials, This is England is to skinheads what Quadrophenia was to mods. The poster's character line up is a direct homage to the 1979 tale of disaffected youth. Yet whereas Quadrophenia gangs were engaged in internal power struggles, the skinheads are barricading themselves against an increasingly hostile society, indicated through integrated documentary footage. Meadows is adept at mapping out a sense of place and he creates an intimate familiarity of the graffiti covered housing estates near Grimsby. This is the first Meadows film to have a period setting, and its political context brings a sense of foreboding to the narrative. When Shaun is adopted by an older group of skinheads, the positives are depicted; initial posturing is replaced by genuine warmth and horseplay between the varied members. Led by the charismatic Woody (Joseph Gilgun), Shaun finds a camaraderie and is introduced to girls, Doc Martins and drinking. The 'movement' of skinheads appears little more than a collective of fashion statements with a Jamaican/British cross over. However, rooted beneath is a tension built on the threat of Shaun's corruption. History will remember skinheads for their association with the nationalist front, a hijacking which takes place in the story through the introduction of Combo (Stephen Graham).

When it comes, the racism is as repugnant and ugly as expected. Meadows doesn't hold back and neither does Graham who plays Combo with a volatile potency. While showing the horrors of racism This is England looks at how these men and boys are seduced by the power of it. Meadows' direct style doesn't patronise with social preaching, instead he lets the characters take the focus. Combo and Shaun find a kinship, despite the age gap, based on shared experiences of rejection and hurt. The back room politics is just a way of harnessing their anger into hatred and an endless cycle of violence. The ecstatic vandalism and play fighting from earlier gives way to brutality and Shaun's bleak rites of passage. A threatening atmosphere pervades the film which ultimately acts as a stronger deterrent than moments of bloodshed. This is England speaks beyond the boundaries of its time frame and seems particularly relevant in the face of today's slew of PR savy racist organisations. The result is a powerful film as effectual as a Ken Loach social drama yet cut with Meadows' acutely observed humour and vivacity.

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