‘This is England’ is set smack bang in the middle of Thatcher’s Britain, circa 1983. The Falkland War is in full swing and there are 3.5 million unemployed and disillusioned Brits.
Shaun, brilliantly portrayed by 14 year-old debutante Thomas Turgoose, is a lonely misfit, bullied at school about the death of his father in the war. He falls in with a rough-looking but likeable group of skinheads, who provide him with a sense of identity and friendship.
The skinheads, led by Woody (Joseph Gilgun) are fairly harmless; their short haircuts, Ben Sherman shirts and Doc Marten boots making them appear more sinister than they really are. The group introduces Shaun to girls, parties and dope, and life is fine until the unexpected appearance of hard-core nationalist Combo (Stephen Graham), just out after a three year spell in jail.
The dynamics of the group change rapidly, with Combo espousing racist National Front propaganda and driving a wedge between himself and the more moderate and likeable Woody.
Combo’s short fuse is barely suppressed, with an undercurrent of tension following him through every scene – think Once Were Warriors’ Jake the Muss at his malevolent worst.
Inevitably, Combo’s emotions reach breaking point, with tragic and violent consequences. Shaun is a shocked observer, and is forced to reassess his friendships and view of the world.
The film is based largely on the youthful experiences of writer/director Shane Meadows, who does a fabulous job of capturing the mood and emotions of the time.
My only quibble was the difference in age between Shaun and the gang, which made some of the plot lines slightly unbelievable.
In all an engrossing and highly enjoyable file.
4 stars from me.
4.5 stars and some tears from Wakes.