Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Where Am I Again?

This Is England is a very personal film, from what I have read. Writer/director Shane Meadows has stated much of what occurs is autobiographical, but you don't need to know this to feel it coming off the screen. The way he plays in flashbacks of news footage of the Falklands War (conflict, whatever) just feels personal. He obviously has a strong tie to the subject matter, like his young subject, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose.)

Shaun is a kid (literally - 12 years old) who lost his father in the War in question. Picked on at school but with a bully's spirit he joins up with some self-styled skinhead punk teenagers who take him under their wing and show him a good time. Whilst they're destructive, these kids (led by Woody (Joe Gilgun)) are pretty nice people. Their destruction is limited to abandoned homes and messing around with each other, and their life-view is to chill out, have fun, smoke some weed and drink some.

When the much-older Combo (Stephen Graham) returns from a few years in prison, where he apparently took the fall for Woody for a crime that never comes to light, the dynamic of the group completely shifts. Combo is a strident nationalist (something that resonates quite strongly with the current rise of the BNP here in Britain) who takes the younger skinhead's mischief to violent and threatening extremes. Shaun chooses staying with Combo rather than Woody and becomes involved in the racism and tragedy it brings. Woody, meanwhile, tries to continue without involvement. In the end, after a nasty confrontation between Combo and one of the original members of the pre-Combo gang, Shaun discovers in himself what England really means to him.

It is a powerful story. Turgoose is extraordinary, carrying the film. Not a bad feat for someone so young. All of the supporting cast is similarly in tune to the requirements of their characters and the mood of the film. Nothing in the film is frivolous: it's all necessary and all treated as such. Meadows (who had been making successful features for a decade before This Is England hit) deftly guides all of the younger performers through the minefields of possible over-performance and lets the older ones let loose with all of the gusto they can manage. He massages the themes of childhood, adolescence and the social and political fallout of wars such as the Falklands (playing out again now in the Middle East) into a moving and powerful narrative with economic expertise.

This Is England is a great film that has grown in my esteem over the two days since I actually watched it. I came out of it impressed but a little nonplussed, but the 48 hours in between have embedded it further in my mind. 4.5 stars, and I'll be looking for some more Meadows flicks to bolster my list.

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