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Saturday, April 21, 2007

This is ENGLAND - review

This is England (18)
Dir. Shane Meadows

Reviewed by Matt Adcock

Come back to a time, not so long ago when Britain was at war, society was barely holding together in the face of suspicion and intolerance and violent gangs roamed the streets. Yes, 1983, a year when young men were divided into two main groups, there were those who wore their hair long and went for make up in a big way and there were others who shaved off their hair, strapped on Doctor Martin’s boots and embraced a westernised version of Ska / reggae culture.As a big fan of Dead Man’s Shoes and Once Upon A Time in the Midlands it was with high expectations that I went to witness This is England, I came away stunned and impressed, moved and shaken. This is England is director Meadows’ most powerful, subversive and altogether riveting slice of film to date, he captures basic human emotion and fuses the warm ‘80s glow of recent nostalgia through a lens of brooding violent tension and social degeneration.It is the tale of Shaun – a young lad who has lost his father to the Falklands war and is trapped by his overly protective mother in a life of poverty and hand me down clothes. Teased and bullied at school, Shaun is desperate for a male role model, a champion and a friend and he finds all these in Woody (a nicely wrought turn by Joseph Gilgun) – surrogate leader of the local skinhead posse. Woody takes a shine to Shaun and brings him into his little gang; these skinheads don’t appear to be the racist hate filled scum that their social grouping would have you initially imagine. Sure they are into some antisocial damage of property for kicks but at heart these guys and their made up to look like alien sex beast girlfriends are OK.Things change however when Combo (a powerhouse performance by Stephen Graham) the former leader of the gang returns from a stretch inside. Combo is a complex character and it is full credit to Graham that he plays him with a pot on emotionally damaged credibility, he has bought into the BNP racist mantra that ‘England is being taken over by Asians’ and that ‘something has to be done about it’. The group splits because Woody refuses to go down this dark path, Shaun is caught in the middle not knowing whether to follow Woody or stick with the dangerous but charismatic Combo. This is England walks the viewer along a knife edge of tension, and whilst the coming of age experiences play to a universal idea of what teenage life is like, the stalking nihilism and splicing of archive TV footage echo the French masterpiece ‘La Haine’ and mean that when the shocking violent climax kicks off – you can say that you saw it coming. Newcomer Thomas Turgoose who plays Shaun is just amazing and he brings a heartfelt poignancy to the central role which I’m sure many more accomplished actors would have struggled to convey. The film overall is a bittersweet experience but one that I think is highly necessary - the words ‘must see’ should ultimately accompany any conversation about This is England.

Darkmatters rating system (out of 5):

Action ööö – not an action film but nice build up
Laughs ööö – genuines laughs to be found
Horror öööö – very nasty at points
Babes ööö – under the 'boy george' look they're quite cute

Overall öööö1/2 (This is Excellent)

Darkmatters: H O M E

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