Sunday, January 23, 2011

Film Reviews: This is England and This is England '86 (dir Shane Meadows)

     I guess since I've been living in England going on four years come July, my friends back home in the states seem to direct all their questions and curiosities about the country in my direction. This is definately the case with This is England (dir Shane Meadows 2006) I suppose also because I am still a punk rock kid at heart. This is England chronicles the lives of a clique of skin head teenagers who encounter the realities of the British Nationalist Party in 1983 set against the backdrop of the Falkland's War. Shaun, played by Thomas Turgoose is a kid getting bullied who runs into a clique of skins in a subway after getting knocked about at school. The skins are a gang of well meaning misfits (that  incidentally remind me of people I used to be friends with in real life back home in Atlanta) who take Shaun under their wing and hang out with him, and give him some form of identity within the group. However when Combo, a skinhead who has been in jail for three years because of taking the rap for the leader of the skins, comes back to town the mood changes.  Combo brings with him nationalistic ideals of racism and bigotry which pull the formerly light hearted friends apart. The attention to detail pertaining to  skinhead culture is quite faithfully accurate. In fact the skins I know pretty much look exactly the way these guys do in the movie. Feather cuts on the girls with Ben Sherman shirts and bleached out jeans. I think the only thing that is missing from This is England is a concert scene complete with mosh pit. I know bands like The Glory would have loved to have been featured.

The film is does what great indie films do. It provides a window into the lives of a fantastic cast of convincing characters dealing tough situations in a way unique to time and place. I also find that the issues of joblessness and bleakness of future relevant to the current uncertain economic climate in a post bail-out world.

This is England  also reminds me of Penelope Spheeris's actual 1983 film Suburbia  in that it too chronicles the lives of youths in the punk rock and hardcore scene of LA, perhaps mixed with Misfits  another great British series chronicling the lives of social outcast (although they happen to have super powers).
This is England '86 (2010) is a four part mini series  produced for Channel 4 that picks up with the gang 3 years after the end of the film.  It's always interesting to see characters develop over extended time periods, and a rare treat to be able to watch a film so well done followed up by an equally thoughtful predecessor. '86 presents a bleakness of reality that is sometimes comical is just how unbelievable it is.
For example, when Woody brings Lol back to their "castle"  (new apartment )  after the failed wedding for the first time,  for Lol to find she will be living in what can only be compared to an ash blackend hovel infested with maggots where someone had died and decomposed. It's slightly ludacris in how bad a place this could possibly be. However, what keeps the mood of the film from being completely bleak  and depressing is the amount of devotion everyone has to each other. They are the family for each other that they may not have had at home. It's reassuring even at the darkest moments.

I recommend This is England to anyone interested in skin head and punk culture, indie film, the 1980's, and perhaps what it may be like to grow up under privileged in certain areas of England. It's fantastic.
4 out of 5 for the whole lot.  Oh and the soundtrack is pretty bitchin' too.

I'd also like to take the opportunity to say that being a skinhead isn't inherently racist at all, as a sub cultural movement skin heads extol the virtues of the working class, listening to reg-ea, ska, and more recently Oi! music. The dress sense reflects the utilitarian needs and the budget of the "working class".
It is unfortunate that mainstream society more often than not automatically views skins as racists. The overwhelming majority of skin heads I know and am friends with aren't racist at all, and there is even a popular movent within the skin society called Sharp (Skin Heads Against Racial Predjudice) that goes out of their way to make the point that racism and bigotry is not ok. I have been, and am still friends with a lot of skin heads who have been wonderful friends when I really needed them. Oi! Oi!


  1. Yay! I'm so glad that you liked both. I was in love with Smell, despite the fact that she asked a twelve year old to suck her titties in the film.

    I think I'm going to add Suburbia to my Netflix queue now that I know it exists.

  2. You should also try and get a hold of Misfits

    two seasons of asbo goodness.

  3. Oh yes, I've not missed an episode of Misfits. Thanks to the internet I usually get to watch new episodes a day after they air, or streaming, if I'm lucky. So glad the show has done well, because I like new episodes. Season 3 later this year :D

    I was also really partial to Skins when that show first came out, and now the US has made their own version which is a HOT MESS!

  4. I heard about the US version of Skins. I just don't think it will translate well. There are things that the US audience just wont understand, such as a "Gap year", and GCSE's, and A levels, and why 16 year olds can drink. We wont get it. Sorry America. You're too prude for Skins.