I was lucky enough to attend the first UK screening of Shane Meadows' latest offering, THIS IS ENGLAND, last Tuesday at the London Film Festival. Having been a fan of Meadows' work since seeing TWENTYFOURSEVEN in 1998, I have anticipated each of his new films with excitement and great interest. Meadows' films defy categorisation and always exceed expectation, as anyone who has seen A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS or DEAD MAN'S SHOES will attest. THIS IS ENGLAND had a lot to live up to
Set during the summer of 1983, THIS IS ENGLAND is the story of Shaun (Thomas Turgoose); a precocious twelve-year-oldcoming to terms with the death of his father. Shaun is soon inducted into a group of local skinheads; a fun loving bunch who spend days committing petty vandalism and listening to ska records. Although much younger than the other members of the group, Shaun endears himself upon them with his sheer determination and defiance, and is quickly embraced as their mascot. However, the frivolity and naivety comes to an abrupt conclusion when ex-member Combo (Steven Graham) is released from a spell in prison. Combo soon causes a rift within the group and becomes the catalyst for them becoming a militant, racist force.
Anyone familiar with Meadows' earlier work will notice many parallels between this and A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS; the film is told from a child's perspective and the corruption of youth/innocence is an underlining theme. Like ROMEO BRASS, THIS IS ENGLAND manages to balance the light-hearted and often hilarious, with menace and tension that's excruciating to endure. Many British films that attempt dramedy falter because one or the other/both is unconvincing, but Meadows manages to combine comedy and drama seamlessly; the laughs come thick and fact but the jolts come harder than a kick to the head.
Typically for a Meadows film, THIS IS ENGLAND is exceptionally well written with some infectious dialogue and fully-fleshed characters, though one of the film's stand-out attributes is that of Danny Cohen's cinematography. Being a film set during the 80s, its look plays a significant part in the audience buying into the film. Many 80s-set films have been betrayed by garish lighting and ultimately end up looking like contemporary people parading around in 20-year-old clothing. Cohen's photography really manages to encapsulate the bleak feeling that was evident of the time, and is both gritty and dour. THIS IS ENGLAND is a film without polished aesthetics and one that has the raw visual style that's not be seen since the films of Alan Clarke (SCUM, MADE IN Britain, THE FIRM).
In addition to the film's look, Meadow's has raided the vaults for a whole host of archive footage leading thirty-something viewers on a trip down memory lane. The credit sequence alone features footage from Roland Rat, the Falklands and Knight Rider; As a child of the 80s, I literally sat in the cinema beaming It's a great hook into a wonderful film.
As assured as Meadows' writing and direction is, the film benefits greatly from its ensemble cast. Predominantly made up of teenagers, the cast of THIS IS ENGLAND excel beyond belief, without one putting a foot wrong. A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS' Andrew Shim is superb as Milky, as is Stephen Graham as Combo - who gives a terrific and complex performance. However, THIS IS ENGLAND belongs to Thomas "Tommo" Tugoose for a débutant child actor he is astonishing and effortlessly conveys the array of mixed emotions the material requires.
In conclusion, THIS IS ENGLAND is essential viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in film. Once again Meadows has set a precedent for British filmmakers and has eclipsed many of his contemporaries. THIS IS ENGLAND may not make for comfortable viewing but it is cinema at its best.
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