Wednesday, August 01, 2007

This is England

The verdict: Shane Meadows' superb semi-autobiographical account of growing up in early 80's England is an immersive, atmoshperic movie with great central performances. Well worth a look.

The rating: 7/10

My first impression of Shane Meadows was made with 'Dead Man's Shoes', a wrecking ball of a movie featuring a genuinely frightening performance from Paddy Considine. There are scenes in that movie that leave a deep imprint on the memory, but of note is the unbelievable tension generated by Considine's sudden shifts of mood. One moment things are light-hearted and easy-going, the next you are catching your breath for fear of what the crazy man will do next.

'This is England' features similar moments of tension and unpredictability, but these are balanced by scenes of a more light-hearted mood than anything from 'Dead Man's Shoes'. Set in the early 80's, the movie's central character is Shaun, a guttsy 12-year-old kid dealing with life after the loss of his father. Shaun is getting a little grief at school, and befriends a group of skinheads on his way home from school one day.

Events take a slightly darker turn however, when Combo gets out of jail. Played by Stephen Graham, who you might recognise from 'Gangs of New York' - but more likely from those Arctic Monkeys videos - Combo is a more aggressive, BNP-affiliated kind of skinhead. From his explosive entry into proceedings, Combo is a divisive presence, building tension between this group of friends, with his blatantly racist comments causing particular tension for the ironically named Milky, played by Romeo Brass himself, Andrew Shim.

The movie is loaded with 80's nostalgia, right from the opening credits, where we are treated to a monatage of iconic images from the time, with the opening line of dialogue going to a cinematic debut for none other than Roland Rat.

England in 1983 must have been a difficult place to grow up. The war with the falklands, combined with high levels of immigration and a domestic recession contributed to an atmosphere of frustration. This movie evokes that quite well, particularly with the tragically conflicted character of Combo.

Of more interest though, is the journey of Shaun, played astonishingly well by the young debutant Thomas Turgoose. The role asks a lot of the kid, as he is placed in adult situations throughout the film, but he copes incredibly well, and has some brilliant lines. He has a lot of memorable moments, including one when he is trying to convince his mother to buy him a pair of Doc Martens, and his language shocks the prissy shoe saleswoman.

Stephen Graham's performance too, is phenomenal, and Meadows' capacity to create dark, frustrated and dangerous characters, so ably demonstrated in 'Dead Man's Shoes' is reproduced here, in my opinion to greater effect. The Combo character is complex but understandable, and Graham's performance is top notch.

I would heartily recommend 'This is England' as an immersive, nostalgic movie. If you're a child of the 80's like me, you'll find much to like in this one. However, the central performances of Stephen Graham, Thomas Turgoose and Andrew Shim are worth the admission price alone in my book. So shave your head, lace up your Docs and get that Ben Sherman shirt on, stick on the ska and enjoy this movie. It's definitely Shane Meadows' best to date.

No comments:

/** Amazon Affiliates code /** Google Analytics Code