England Is Mine


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

England Is Mine stars Jack Lowden as Morrissey
"Throughout the film, there's a feeling that the writers are picking their way gingerly through a minefield of possible problems, thereby failing to commit fully to the character of Steven Morrissey." | Photo: Courtesy of EIFF

There is no doubt that Mark Gill's debut feature - which closed Edinburgh Film Festival - is a labour of love. While all films take dedication, the director - working from a script co-written by William Thacker - faced additional, specific problems with this Morrissey biopic, not least the fact that he didn't have the rights to any of The Smiths music/lyrics. And that's before we get to how litigious the singer is and how, in recent years, his charms may be on the wane with pro-EU youngsters less than thrilled with the revelation in a Loaded interview that "I like Nigel Farage a great deal" and with his remarks regarding Islamic extremism.

Perhaps this partially explains why the film stops just at the point when things are getting interesting - as The Smiths are about to come into being and enjoy a meteoric rise from zero to pop gods within the space of two years. As it is, we're essentially presented with a period piece coming-of-age story, which would be fine if this was pure fiction. The fact that it isn't, however, essentially hamstrings the writers in terms of content. Where a fictive lad in northern 70s Britain could be having existential crises, suicidal thoughts or be experimenting sexually - a character intended to represent Morrissey has to be much more careful than that.

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Throughout the film, there's a feeling that the writers are picking their way gingerly through a minefield of possible problems, thereby failing to commit fully to the character of Steven Morrissey, which is unlikely to please either fans or those just hoping for a slice of 70s teen emergence. One area where the film does exceed expectations is in the recreation of the soundtrack of Morrissey's youth - from the New York Dolls to 60s pop and George Formby - that serves to provoke you to think again about the influences in The Smiths' music.

Although Jack Lowden has looks more fitting for an Alan Davies biopic, he is engaging, embodying Morrissey well in terms of body language and, in the brief moment we see it, stage presence. Generally speaking, however, it's hard to see why so many people like artist Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Anji Hardy (Katherine Pearce, who shows great comic timing) would hang around with such a maudlin soul, with his wit kept far too under wraps. When it does break out, it's in a civil service office setting that is played far too broadly for laughs, as though trying to conjure the laugh-track spirit of Terry and June.

The women, in general, get short shrift, written out in places without so much as a backward glance, treated for laughs or arriving/returning right on cue to stoke emotional crisis. Even his mum Betty (the always excellent Simone Kirby) is portrayed as a cliched kitchen-sink sort, when, in fact, she was a librarian who encouraged his interest in books.

Future bandmate Johnny Marr (Laurie Kynaston) is also kept mostly in the margins. By the end, I felt marginalised as well, too distant from the heart of the story to fully feel its beat.

Reviewed on: 18 Jul 2017
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A portrait of Morrissey's early life.
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Director: Mark Gill

Writer: Mark Gill, William Thacker

Starring: Jessica Brown Findlay, Jodie Comer, Jack Lowden, Katherine Pearce, Simone Kirby, Laurie Kynaston, Finney Cassidy, Adam Lawrence, Marc Graham

Year: 2017

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2017

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