This Is England DVD Review: Skinhead Brutality And Race Hatred
by Prairie Miller
It can usually be said of most filmmakers who sustain lengthy careers, that they turn out primarily predictable, if competent movies, and occasionally distinguished ones. But the trajectory of young British workingclass director Shane Meadows is far more affecting and pleasurable to behold. For the thirty-five year old filmmaker has so solidly matured over the past decade of honing his craft, beginning with brash, macho, frenetic beat-em-up fare like TwentyFourSeven, that his latest very personal coming of age drama, This Is England, is thoroughly unanticipated and nothing less than astonishing.
A kind of convulsive cross between Ken Loach and Guy Ritchie, Meadows draws from the strengths of both of these clashing perspectives for This Is England. And in effect, gleaning emotional truths distilled from the deep wells of individual character and history, so that they seamlessly shed light on one another in miraculous ways.
Based on the filmmaker's own formative years as he emerged from a painful childhood in the mid-1980s, This is England follows twelve year old Shaun (salt of the earth find Thomas Turgoose, in a stunning performance), a moody workingclass Midlands boy who has just lost his father in the Falklands War, and whose caring but overwhelmed mother is barely coping. Shaun's yearning for male attention and guidance leads him to fall in with a gang of local skinhead upstarts.
The motley crew of rowdy but oddly affectionate eccentrics is into generally minor mischief. But as the brutal backdrop of the Falklands conflict, Margaret Thatcher's war on labor unions and social welfare spending cuts, and concurrent massive economic depression all deepen, so does the skinhead subculture turn a darker corner. With 3 1/2 million unemployed and the surging army of jobless youth dubbed 'no hopers,' the skinheads with their '60s roots that emblematically embraced Jamaican-British music as their expressive collective voice, are now venting their increasing social and economic frustrations in a downward spiral of violent racism. There is also a more emotional than politically grounded gravitation to the National Front right wing movement, which fully takes advantage of this downwardly mobile white workingclass alienation.
This fomenting sinister influence is visited upon Shaun and his gang in the person of Combo, (Stephen Graham) a vicious ex-con with simmering race hatred, and allegiance to the NF. Many in the gang drift away out of fear of Combo and disgust for his racist rants, in particular against the single black gang member Milky (Andrew Shim), a shy British-Jamaican. Shaun, however, is irresistibly drawn to Combo, as the fatherless boy misreads Combo's ferocious temperament as surrogate paternal fortitude. And in no small way, the film intimates a direct corollary between the UK imperialist bullying of a Third World nation in the Falklands and the skinhead white power mentality on the upswing then, and by extension the superpower invasion of Iraq today.
This Is England has a fundamental, uncommon grasp of the complexities of racial friction in combat with turbulent socio-historical forces, conveying an understanding of this terrible interplay, not as the inevitability of unfathomable psychological evil but rather the tragic human condition that is class-based and potentially ameliorated by altered social consciousness. Most striking in this regard, is the embodiment of simultaneous despicable and deeply wounded impulses within the white racist criminal Combo, who is, in a stroke of genius casting, played by Graham, a black actor whose physical appearance is white. It's a stunning performance, capturing the visceral wells of race terror in a way that no white actor could ever convey. Let's just say that Meadows, in his uncompromising scrutiny of humanity for better or worse, uncannily illuminates in many ways how the heart and mind interact with history.
IFC Films/Genius Products
DVD Features: Audio Commentary by Director Shane Meadows, Producer Mark Herbert, and Star Thomas Turgoose; Behind The Scenes: The Making Of This Is England; Deleted Scenes; Interview With Director Shane Meadows; Theatrical Trailer
Related Movie Reviews News