Thursday, July 26, 2007

This Is England -- Watch and Learn (Film Review)














...I don't know if it's because the A/C hasn't kicked in but, fuck me, it smells like soaked in, fake-butter and seat cushions filled with stale Cola farts up in this piece..a small price to pay in order to see what the fuck this film's about, I'd wager-- still, none of this mixes well with a long bike ride in the mid-day Los Angeles sun and the remnants of the pints I had last that are still coursing through my veins as I type up this opener...more later, the film's beginning...press play...



Based on the youth of Shane Meadows (TwentyFourSeven, A Room for Romeo Bliss, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands) the synopsis for This Is England goes as follows: Set at the end of the school year in the summer of '83, the camera trails Shaun, a twelve year old loner living in a small coastal town in Northern England whose father has died fighting in the nation's war in the Falkland Islands. As mentioned, Shaun hasn't a lot of friends and is ruthlessly picked on at school, wearing flares (bell bottoms) on the last day of his term doesn't help much. He's befriended by a group of local skinheads on his way home and soon finds a crowd that he can run with, that accepts and sincerely seem to care for him. The dew dries on the lily of brotherhood, however, when Combo, an older skin, returns to the scene and roundly undermines the pecking order by revealing how his views on race and nationalism have morphed while on the inside-- all of which brings the storyline to a climax that will change young Shaun irrevocably...



















...I cannot tell porkie pies, I walked in the theater doors expecting to find a mixture of Romper Stomper and American History X when I took the premise of This Is England into account. Those times were not pretty for the working class UK and being based on Shane Meadows' early life in Uttoxeter, I didn't know where in the hell he (the film's writer and director) could take it considering the subject matter-- most people tend to close in nice and tight on what they've seen in footage of National Front types marching around poor British neighborhoods (not the period before all that, when multi-racial groups of city kids got together for other, more obvious reasons)...Meadows gets it, coming from inside that scene TIE focuses not on the nationalistic bent, but how and why those youth got together in the first place -- the same reason that young kids still do and always will congregate in gaggles: to find a sense of belonging...


Although Meadows was sitting in the big chair for this, his tale could not be told without actors and this film features one of his finest castings to date. Thomas Turgoose makes a lively performance as the wet-behind-the-ears protagonist while Woody (Joe Gilgun in his first feature role, no less) pulls the viewer into the gang's fold while the supporting cast fill in all the gaps...

















...Vicky McClure (A Room for Romeo Bliss), pictured above in the middle, does a cracking turn as Lol, Woody's bangs 'n buzz-cut girlfriend as does Rosamund Hanson as "Smell" , the character who Shaun crushes on, manages to steal a few scenes herself while wearing what once made Lucky Star-era Madonna a hottie...

...Meadows' semi-biopic isn't a VH-1 behind the music-style take on the time (though knuckleheads who weren't even around might have grouses)...one gets a sense of what would become the punk scene was like, more or less...this is one of the best scenes in the film...when the protagonist makes his first transformation...


...bearing the storyline in mind, all cannot be itty bitty patches of sunshine. Stephen Graham (Snatch, Gangs of New York) pulls a reversal on the chubby-cheeked Cockney hipster Tommy he'd pulled off in the Guy Ritchie film and he took the jam right out of my donut as Combo, an old-school head, fresh out of prison with one foot on recidivism and the other on a banana peel. Graham will make those who loved Tommy Gun look twice at this guys chops on camera. Too, at dark points, my skin really started leaking for Milky, played by Andrew Shim (who also worked with Meadows before on A Room for Romeo Bliss) whether or not he'll get his porkpie hat mashed in and the shit kicked out of him by unseen British hooligans is eventually revealed to all...

Screened internationally at film festivals in Berlin, Toronto, New York (Tribeca), Seattle and Rome, it's easy to see why it's garnered awards like The Jury Prize (Rome Int'l Film Fest) and Best Film & Best Newcomer at the British Independent Film Awards as it is not national front skinhead propaganda (although some people did look surprised to see me covering it..."this is juicy", I thought to myself)...the soundtrack, filled with a grip of Toots & the Maytals' classics, is poppin' as well although I could've heard a trifle more 2-Tone...the background posters and album covers really fired up my inner Trojan Music lover...I hate it when reviews have captions in them like "must see" and "a hit"...it does not apply to This Is England in this instance as it's been out for a minute and has just reached the shores of America and its wider public.

Having said all that, I think I've just seen the first great film of the summer...the word "powerful" has been bandied about in descriptions of the film and for once I agree...from the opening montage, filled to the brim with gripping footage from an era that feels long gone, the film is an insightful peek into some of what was really going down with what we now call the working poor while the Union Jack waved over the fading empire of Maggie Thatcher's England, it'll surprise you how much what's going on now is just like then...I forgot all about that butter smell...see this film.

...This Is England opens in New York on Friday, July 27 at the IFC Center &

In Los Angeles on Friday, August 3 at the NuArt Theater...I just found out that outside those markets it is also available now on demand to IFC cable subscribers...click the header for the film's official site..here's the trailer...

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2 Comments:

Blogger mercury jones said...

Thanks for turning us on to this

6:03 PM, July 26, 2007  
Anonymous Colin said...

Saw this at w/e.

*Spoilers*

Loved the characters, situation, acting and performances. Actually about something yet incredibly suspenseful. Some nail-biting scenes. Partularly the conversion of Shaun. The bust up after the National Front rally. And especially when Milk "smiles" at Combo. It seemed sickeningly true.

I had some minor problems with the plot. Like I was perplexed that Meadows basically sidelined Woody half-way through. And I didn't like that Combo's freak-out at the end was put down to "going psycho". Much more powerful if he did it because he was genuinely in thrall to an evil philosophy. Also, wasn't Smell a little old for our hero?! Still, fair play to him for pulling her...!

All in all a wonderful picture, though.

Btw, thanks for information on the actors. They were all terrific.

7:24 AM, July 30, 2007  

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