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The International Writers Magazine: Film Review:

This Is England
Directed by Shane Meadows
Dan Bond

"Sir, Put The Charge On Me". Start with a dash of Toots and the Maytals, add a little Roland Rat, a Rubik's Cube and Margaret Thatcher sitting in a digger. Leave to simmer amongst a series of images of the Falkland's War, and pretty soon, Ladies and Gentleman, you'll have Summer, 1983. The last day of school-term to be precise.
'This Is England'.

Enter Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), an 11-year old, scruffy-looking red head with a 'fuck you' attitude and a pair of grey flares to prove it. Shaun is an angry young man, helplessly searching for an escape from the anger and pain he suffers from in the wake of his fathers death. In many ways an embodiment of the mass public frustration felt throughout the 1980's, Shaun is in need of an outlet, and more importantly, somebody to blame.

Faced with another summer of discontent, Shaun stumbles across the local 'Skinhead' fraternity. Despite his age, his spirit and passion for his 'cause' is infectious amongst the gang, who take him in to their 'family', in a sense, shave his head, give him a Ben Sherman, a pair of Dr. Martens and a girlfriend named Sniff (Rosamund Hanson), and make him their mascot. Shaun's catapult into adulthood is arguably Director Shane Meadows finest hour, as he masterfully manufactures a sensitive story that meanders its way between a sense of belonging, masculinity, happiness and rage, and ultimately stops at the end of a childhood with the arrival of Combo (Stephen Graham), a National Front racist, fresh out of prison, who signals an end to the gang embraced that embraced Shaun as their own.

With an Army of followers, including Shaun, Combo sets out on a mission into the darker, yet very real, complexities of race, rarely acknowledged in British Cultural History. National Front Rallies, Racist threats and ultimately a supposed murder of one of Shaun's former gang-mates, a black boy named Milky (Andrew Shim), pushes Shaun to lengths that shouldn't be encountered by any pre-teen adolescent. The further Shaun is robbed of his childhood naivety, the more he begins to miss the joy and the frivolous sense of purpose that being in a gang is about. Soon he has to address the dilemma of whether he should continue fighting for his father's spirit, or preserve the spirit of his own.

The combination of outstanding performances from Turgoose and Graham in particular, a wonderful Reggae-laden soundtrack, naturalistic dialogue and the incorporation of Meadow's personal experiences ultimately set this film apart from the 'Football Factory's' and 'Lock Stock's' of recent times. The audience live Shaun's emotion, they feel Milky's anger, they even sympathise with Combo at certain moments. For those who lived in the era, this isn't a piece of nostalgia, more an address of a painful memory. For those who didn't live in the era, you will be hard-pushed to find a better recreation of working-class Britain.

'This Is England' has earned the right to sit amongst the very best of British Cinema, if anything, just for unearthing the talent of Turgoose. Now Meadows needs to broaden his horizons. 'This Is England' has set him apart from his peers and his rivals, and now he needs to take up the mantle and push his success on to bigger things. This film may have provided him with the basis to break into the mainstream. Now we await to see if Meadows can create less 'Once Upon A Time In The Midlands', and more 'Once Upon A Time In The West'.

'This Is England' was broadcast on 24/11/2008 at 21.00 on Channel 4.

© Daniel Bond December 2008

Dan is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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