This Is England
Directed by Shane Meadows. Starring Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun. (2007, NR, 101 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Sept. 7, 2007
Somewhere between the pop jouissance of Guy Ritchie and the social realism of Ken Loach, this ballsy drama freeze-frames bleak Thatcherite Yorkshire and exposes its racist underbelly. Writer/director Meadows announces himself with an assertive montage of smashed windows, street riots, and Thatcher playing a game of Missile Command, then turns the movie down to a thoughtful simmer for the semi-autobiographical story of a descent from mischievous schoolboy to junior skinhead. Friendless – and fatherless from the Falklands War – Shaun (Turgoose) meets a passel of rude boys under a bridge, and at first it’s all fun and games: walking in slow motion to rock-steady music, wearing silly hats and romping around like wild boys, smashing shit in the many abandoned, lawless places available in town. Shaun gets a buzz cut from some New Wave girls, a natty shirt, and suspenders, but he also gets a sense of belonging made palpable by Meadows and his young star. Enter Combo (Graham), who immediately assumes control of the group upon returning from a three-year stint in prison. His white-power rap polarizes the gang, but Shaun remains, spit-swearing adolescent loyalty to a violent neo-Nazi. The film slows down and thickens as Shaun becomes embroiled in a subculture of hate – in moments, it’s a little talky, but it doesn’t lose its intensity. It’s still full of adrenaline and testosterone. Scenes of sickening violence and hostility emerge at times from the slow-boil narrative; Meadows’ job is to reveal the depths of cruelty while reminding us of its sinister attraction to young people with few prospects. As with the similarly themed American History X (but with a more low-slung feel and a more naturalistic approach), the film’s success finally depends on its leads as the initiate and mentor. Ginger-haired Turgoose’s hound-dog eyes and doughy earnestness make his character’s corruption especially poignant on the dramatic level – he looks like a young Paul McCartney – but Meadows also plays his boyish mien for ironic impact: With the right training, even a kid this cute can bash immigrant shopkeepers. Graham (sidekick Tommy from Snatch) has a forceful, malignant presence but evinces not only fatherly regard for his own but also the hurt pride of men in desperate times.