5 November 2006 | just_hamish
This is England - The very best British cinema has to offer.
Fellow Midlander Shane Meadows has produced not only his finest work to date but one of the very best films to come out of Britain that I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. Just as the effectively chilling, bloody (yet arguably flawed) "Dead Man's Shoes" showcased a passionate return to low budget, focused film making, "This Is England" sees him perfect his technique. It is a seemingly effortless achievement that matches a warm, humorous portrayal of a young lad growing up with his experience of the cold brutality that came with the 80s skinhead culture. The way in which Shane blends these two aspects together without compromising on either is most impressive.
Delivering a surprising, enchanting performance in the lead role as Shaun, Thomas Turgoose portrays a youngster of incredible warmth and charisma. He is befriended by a relatively harmless gang skirting with the skinhead culture rife at the time. His strength of character in the face of the adversity life throws his way is truly unforgettable, a credit to both Shane as the writer and Thomas as the performer. As Shaun discovers the joy of "belonging" in the gang, the viewer takes a similar journey. Through sublime use of another excellent soundtrack (an ear for music in relation to visuals is one of Shane's most loved and respected trademarks) the joy of youth and life literally springs from the screen.
What is particularly successful is Shane's restraint where it comes to grounding the film in reality. It would have been all too easy to escalate these events above and beyond the core group of characters, creating a power struggle on a much bigger, thrill friendly scale. Instead the film remains focused and convincing, not once do you doubt the likelihood of events. The canvas may be smaller but emotionally "This Is England" resonates more powerfully than ever before, taking the harsh, greys of a story like "Dead Man's Shoes" and enlightening it with a central character full of warmth and honesty. In the end this serves to engage the viewer on a much greater level.
It is in comedy that "This Is England" truly surprises, not the usual splash of dark humour but humour of much broader appeal. Thomas' performance brings the sharp dialogue to life with a wonderful physical range, the first half the film is crammed with delightful comic moments that really draw you in to the character, making future events all the more affecting. Much is made of Shaun's romance with a much older girl, the scenes are tear-jerking in their tender, wonderfully observed realism. There is much in the film that will trigger moments of recognition in the viewer, especially (but not exclusively) those who were young in the 80s.
As big time skinhead Combo (the other stand out performance of the piece from Scouser Stephen Graham) comes out of jail the film takes a U-Turn, presenting a troubling, unrestrained view on racism through extreme nationalism, getting deep under the skin to question the source and nature of such hatred. It is in this that we realise this is a study of human nature as Shaun is presented with more extreme acts that drive him to question the moral behind such irrational prejudices.
Book ending the film is real news footage of the political climate surrounding the events depicted, prominent among which is Maggie Thatcher's invasion of the Falklands (a conflict that's consequences prove key to the central narrative) When asked "Will we ever talk to the Argentines again?" on a radio interview Thatcher purrs "No
I don't think so" The parallels are fitting and thoroughly engaging. Inspired, shaped and formed by Shane's own childhood, "This Is England" is ultimately an honest, confident piece of film making right from the heart. The film is a wonderful example of what British cinema has to offer the world. The film may be grounded in period authenticity, but the narrative is ultimately applicable to all of us, having experienced the inescapable process of growing up. Shaun's quality shines through, his experienced may be unique but the messages conveyed are most certainly universal.