This Is England

This Is England

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A blistering fictionalised account of the early life of director Shane Meadows, This is England opens with an extended credit sequence packed with Eighties iconography. Roland Rat, the Rubik's cube, Maggie Thatcher hectoring an audience about the Falklands War. Anyone who lived through it will remember it, but this is more than just a nostalgia trip; it feels like a retelling of everyone's experience of that time, as brutal as it is affectionate.

Unemployment is at three and a half million. Police clash with urban youths as the streets explode in race riots. Young Shaun has just lost his dad in the war. He's wearing hand-me-down trousers, sporting an awful haircut, and getting bullied every day at school ("I didn't know Keith Chegwin had a son!") Life turns around for him when he's adopted by a gang of skinheads who give him the chance to start finding his own identity; but Shaun is only 12 and the adult world is complicated. Underneath it all, he's still looking for a father figure. Enter the charismatic Combo, just out of prison, racist and probably psychotic but determined, in his own way, to give the boy the sort of paternal support he never had. As tension simmers between the adults, Shaun must figure out whom he can trust, what it means to be English and what it means to be himself.

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This is England is, quite simply, the best British film for years. Modest in its ambitions, small-scale but intense, it powerfully evokes the mood of the time yet deals with issues still intensely relevant today. Thomas Turgoose, drawing on tragic personal experience, makes a remarkable lead, utterly naturalistic, believable and sympathetic. Stephen Graham is on top form as Combo, alternately charming and terrifying, inspiring both fear and pity. The rest of the cast turn in beautifully understated performances which complement the film's gentle observational humour. The result is something intensely personal, something which captures that sense of community which can develop within any subculture before ripping it apart. Its ugliness is so closely interwoven with its charm that it's easy to relate to the way Shaun is carried along by events and swept out of his depth.

In a distressing move, the BBFC have given this film an 18 certificate, saying that this is because it contains "complex racist violence" and the word "cunt". Language issues aside (in what school playground would one not hear that word?), this seems to be saying that young people shouldn't think about issues like racism. The violence in the film is deeply unpleasant, but it ought to be - that's part of the statement it's making - and it's not as extreme as that seen in many 12 certificate action films. This is very much a film about young people and the importance of understanding such complex issues. It may be set in the past but none of its monsters have gone away. Indeed, it's refreshing to see a film which as blunt about things as this. A record of the damage done.

If you're underage, sneak into this film. Whatever age you are, you've no excuse for missing it.

Reviewed on: 22 Feb 2007
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This Is England packshot
A young boy adopted by a group of skinheads struggles to find his own identity in a world dominated by racism and war. Now out to own on two-disc DVD.
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Director: Shane Meadows

Writer: Shane Meadows

Starring: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Perry Benson, George Newton, Frank Harper, Jack O'Connell, Kieran Hardcastle

Year: 2006

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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