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The International Writers Magazine: Review

This is England
Directed by Shane Meadows
Big Arty Productions
Tiffany Lee

Every now and then a film emerges that grabs you by the eyeballs and prevents you from ever being the same. Britain hasn’t achieved this since Ewan McGregor asked "who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?" But we have done it again. Arising from the incredible imagination and personal experiences of writer and director Shane Meadows, this exceptional exploration of the skinhead subculture gives American History X a run for its morals.

Set in eighties Britain, this film follows Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) a young and impressionable school boy as he becomes involved in a skinhead gang. At first, Shaun is seduced by Woody and his gang of friendly teenage mods who initiate him into their world of Fred Perry, steel toe caps and braces. However, when gang leader Combo, played by Stephen Graham (Goal!) returns from prison the entire atmosphere of the film becomes extremely intense and uncomfortable to watch.

Combo’s return divides the group in two: the mods that exist as the image in the shallowest sense and devote their disposable income to fashion and music, and the skinheads who have an ulterior motive. Unfortunately Shaun decides to follow the latter option where he is introduced to the sickening anti-multiculturist perspective of traditional skinheads. The film really interacts with reality when the pair attend a National Front meeting. The NF, notorious for their fascist mottos, acted as the working class coping strategy for unemployment and offered its members an easy target to blame; the foreign community. In the astounding sequences of racial violence in the film, Meadows demonstrates the damaging affects that this influence had on society. Considering the beliefs held by the British National Party that circulates today, unfortunately these scenes are not far from home.

Throughout the film, Meadows points his finger into the family home and suggests that these troubled relationships are to blame for the state in which we find our country. Although Shaun inhabits a comfortable home, his widowed mother reminding us that this racist ambassador is just a child, his father figure Combo is not so secure. Meadows never lets us fully penetrate the guarded inner psyche of Combo, however the film does explore the effects his leadership has on Shaun. The relationship demonstrates the vulnerable impressionability of youths which is all too current in contemporary culture. Today, we are a society desensitised to youth violence. Every morning we wake up to a story competing against the previous day to shock the public and more often than not the age of the villain is the hook to the article. Therefore, Meadows’ comment on this moral panic is extremely relevant as Turgoose connotes Britain’s demise in the hands of this corrupt generation. By referencing this growing problem, Meadows is tapping into an existing fear amongst society and injecting it into the film.

Meadows interpretation of the era is outstanding. The aesthetics of the film conjure with precision the atmosphere of the eighties, beginning with the title sequence that references iconic moments of the decade, such as the rise of Thatcherism, CD production and the rubix cube fad. The scenes are washed in stained colouring that will remind you of your Nan’s house and the costumes are loud and so detailed they are pivotal to voicing the attitude of the generation. Shot from a very angular perspective, even the framing of the images are reminiscent of the sharp contours of infamous mod Rod Stewart’s classic suits. The soundtrack is a key contribution as Meadows has carefully selected a mixture of ska, reggae and punk to convey the varied influences of the culture. However, in particular scenes where the atmosphere is not so light emotive piano ‘movie music’ compliments our feelings of sadness about the horrific situations onscreen. This is an example of how the film compels us to become emotionally involved and perhaps is Meadows way of enforcing sympathy in the viewer, not for the character, but for England.

The script in this film is completely invisible and the actors are mostly unknown, making this representation of our society even more disturbingly real. This film is utterly breathtaking, the most troubling message behind it being that this really is the state of our country, this is England.
© Tiffany Lee November 2007

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