“Lovely, lovely, love you for that, that’s fucking great. A proud man, learn from him; that’s a proud man. That’s what we need, man. That’s what this nation has been built on, proud men. Proud fucking warriors!”
This is Shane Meadows masterpiece. Even since, with Somers Town and Le-Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee, he hasn’t managed to top the epic-nature of This is England. Even now, a four-part drama, renuniting the cast of This is England is due to start of Channel 4. It has got rave reviews and does look awesome, but this is an ideal time to flash back to what started it all and what started real respect for Shane Meadows from the mainstream crowd. Having watched the film many times – and indeed I shall watch it moreso in the future – I have collected many notes on the film so I shall try not to ramble and keep them as concise as possible. Seriously, I beg all of you – especially the Americans and Canadians who may not know much about Shane Meadows – hunt this film out because it is a testament to British Cinema. One of the best films of the decade.
From 1983, we have reality …
Documentary-footage from ’83 shows footage of the policitcal climate – the Falklands war, Margaret Thatcher, etc, before cutting to Shaun (Turgoose) and angry and aggressive 11 year-old (same age as the two lads in A Room for Romeo Brass) who is the Son of a soldier killed during the Falklands War. Clearly he is a bit of a social outcast and we see him begin a friendship with Woody and his group. Woody and Co are older boys who clearly enjoy joking around with Shaun as much as he enjoys there company – rough boys who break into houses and fool around, give the impression that, although they are having fun, they are rebelling to some extent themselves. But who doesn’t at that age? Its not long into the film before we meet Combo (A flawless performance from Stephen Graham) an ex-prisoner, recently released from prison with his own views on what he believes England is. This is where the film gets exceptionally sinister – and the lack of intelligence of the minor characters, and emotions of Shaun, gain a small few acceptance into Combo’s elitest group of racist skinheads.
Combo’s Deep Rooted Character
Shane Meadows neo-realist style mean that you can truly dig deep into the characters portrayed. Combo alone has such intricate plot details that fuel his jealousy and rage against immigrants. Akin to Paddy Conside’s ‘Morell’ to Romeo in Romeo Brass, Combo becomes a semi-father-figure to Shaun and, through this very strong bond, Combo begins to let slip small details about his own father – someone who was clearly aggressive towards Combo. The finale, between Combo and Milky, reveals Combo’s real frustration – the famiyl unit Milky has, the love between members is what supports Milky, whilst Combo never had such support. The friends he has, have SEN (Special Educational Needs), specifically Gadget and the older fella with the rimmed glasses.
The improvised acting forces the realism to a deeper level – as viewers you cannot help but feel that what you are watching is rooted in reality. Nothing is hidden – not the awkward moments as Shaun first interrupts Combo’s stories from prison, not the awkward realisation that Shaun wants to stay friends with Combo rather than stick with Woody. Milky himself clearly wants to be accepted in society, but his naivety and brotherly-love is what places him in danger.
Named ‘This is England’, the title provokes anger into the situation Thatcher potentially created – the deaths of soldiers on the front line (a fascinating parrallel with soldiers in Afghanistan perhaps?) and the ignorance of some and influence they have on the minds of the uneducated. Combo’s Nationalists use the term ‘England’ as a front – as the focus – of their racist campaign. ‘England needs proud men’, etc. This is, quite clearly, not England but it does explore deep-rooted racism and I know personally of how this continues today – simplistic attitudes towards immigration and no consideration for the country that believes in multi-culturalism. This is England shocks and appalls – and yet forces you to consider the national concerns raised. It is Meadows style that brings it to the forefront as we cannot escape the reality of the situation.
This bring us to the end of the Shane Meadows reviews but, suffice to say, I strongly recommend watching these films. If unsure, ‘Netflix’ (as you folks across the Atlantic say) This is England because I can guarantee – you won’t look back.