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This is England

I’ve been watching This is England tonight, a 2006 film by director Shane Meadows. Brilliant. One of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Hilarious and horrifying in different measures. You have to start with the performance of the star, child actor Thomas Turgoose. He’s just incredible in the role. If I remember rightly, he didn’t really have any acting experience before he was picked for the film, which makes it all the more remarkable.

It deals with the story of a young boy being accepted into a gang of older lads in 1983. Everything is faithful, dour and grotty for the time, right down to him being bullied for wearing unfashionable clothes that made him look like a hippy (the worst thing possible in the early 80s, as I remember). I think it may have rung home particularly for me as I’d have been about the same age as the young lad that year. The gang are a group of happy tearaways, a bit violent, dressed as bovver boys, but just really up for a laugh. The leader Woody takes him under his wing, looks after him, gives him a sense of identity, almost a father figure.

Things change when Woody’s older brother Combo returns from prison, determined to get the group to follow his new-found belief in the ways of the National Front. Shaun (Turgoose) leaves the protective friendship of Woody (a surprising appearance from Emmerdale’s Eli Dingle) to follow Combo and his gang. The mood changes somewhat from this point on, and it becomes quite difficult viewing, as Combo leads a series of racists actions and attacks. It’s difficult in part because characters you’ve already become fond of start behaving in an abhorrent way (whilst in keeping with their character, being led along, looking for acceptance by the others.

It is in no way a glorification of their actions at all, it is all the more jarring because of the confused sympathies for the viewer. Overall it finishes as a sad tale, bitter, with hurt and pain. Well told, raises many memories of the eighties, good and bad. Well worth watching, and makes me keen to seek out some of the other Shane Meadows films I’ve yet to see.