This Is England (18)

Written and Directed by Shane Meadows
Screening at FACT from 27th April 2007

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

A hard hitting (in more ways than one) if somewhat romanticised portrayal of skinheads in England soon after the conclusion of the Falklands War.

Based upon writer/director Shane Meadows' own childhood experiences, the film revolves around Thomas Turgoose as Shaun Field (do you see the link between the names?) who joins a bunch of skinheads, all several years older than himself.

He is still grieving at the loss of his father in the war, and finds a degree of comfort in being part of the gang, with kindhearted Woody (Joe Gilgun) taking him under his wing. Even his straitlaced mum - although irate at first at seeing him with his head shaven and wearing a pair of Doc Martens, high flying denims and braces - almost approves of his alliance with them.

The grim reality of the period - over three million people unemployed and inner city deprivation throughout the country - is starkly depicted. Thatcher's destructive reign and megalomania was in full swing at that time, even more reinforced by her 'triumph' in overcoming Argentina, one of the world's renowned fighting forces!

Field, having earlier been bullied at school, starts to enjoy himself in the gang's company, for example going to parties with them, and despite only being twelve years of age, falls in love with the delightful Michelle aka Smelly (Rosamund Hanson).

But the good times abruptly come to an end when Combo (Liverpool actor Stephen Graham, I was amazed to discover after seeing this film that he appeared in the epic war film 'Band Of Brothers') appears on the scene, after being incarcerated in jail for three years, like an unleashed rottweiller.

His performance, although in a sense obnoxious in its ferociousness, hate, bitterness and bile together with his deep seated racism, is at the same time compelling to watch.

He scares the shit out of most of the gang, but strangely, and maybe incredulously, Field stands up to him, aiming blows at him, after he slags off the futility of the Falklands War.

Combo's volcanic temper erupts to devastating effect in the closing stages as the gang finally fragments.

The music of the period is faithfully reflected in This Is England, and there is no lack of humour, despite the violence and grim environment. One particularly funny sequence occurs when one of the gang - attempting to spray 'Fuck Off Pakis' - asks how many 'f's are there in 'off'. I thought it was amusing anyway.

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