This is England (2006) / Drama

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but definitely R for violence, some sexuality, drug use, and language
Running Time: 99 min.

Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Joseph Gilgun, Vicky McClure, Andrew Shim, Jo Hartley, Perry Benson, Rosamund Hanson, George Newton, Andrew Ellis, Jack O'Connell, Kieran Hardcastle
Director: Shane Meadows

Screenplay: Shane Meadows
Review published May 6, 2007

Writer-director Shane Meadows' (Dead Mans' Shoes, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands) semi-autobiographical tale (set in 1983, England) relates the story of 12-year-old Shaun (Turgoose), a young boy who joins up with a gang of older skinheads after being bullied by his classmates in school.  Through the tight knit group, he finds identity and belonging, and a sense of family he hasn't felt since the death of his father in the British war in the Falkland Islands.  Things turn a shade darker with the arrival of Combo (Graham, The I Inside), a former member of the gang recently sprung from prison.  He soon forms a schism in the group with his strongly-felt passion for the platform of the National Front, an organization who opposed immigration and multiculturalism in England, and soon, the gang he knew breaks off from this new pack, though Shaun stays behind with Combo and his gang, as they appeal to a respect for his father's legacy.

Combo's leadership in the gang takes some dangerous turns, including the habitual harassment and rousting of any immigrants in the neighborhood.  The group threaten their lives and claim ownership of the streets, as they feel they are the real England, and want to avert the country from what they feel is systematic bastardization of their culture.  They claim they are nationalists, not seeing people for their skin color, but it seems the racism is ensconced within their "national pride", and these feelings tend to cross over in ways that ultimately make them a very dangerous group indeed -- especially for an impressionable young boy like Shaun.

Part coming-of-age film and part expose on skinhead culture of the early-1980s England, Shane Meadows film is brimming with personality, authenticity, and originality.  It strikes the right chords, not only as a personal story of one boy's confusion with his own identity, but also of the confusion of an entire country, whose peoples were conflicted about a war they didn't want, and a bubbling under of anti-immigration sentiment that left foreign newcomers largely unprotected to skinhead gangs like the one depicted in the film.  A parallel can be drawn between the tactics of the skinheads in the film and those of the country of England itself in the Falklands War, bullying those who can't properly defend themselves (though it can be argued that England was provoked to action) under the pretense of entitlement, but the effect of the violent action against Argentina did drum up feelings of nationalism and support among the British people.

With very strong performances, especially from Stephen Graham as Combo, who is actually not a bad guy so much as one who does bad things out of his own fears and feelings of inadequacy.  Newcomer Thomas Turgoose, not a professional actor, does a fine job in a difficult first performance, even adding nuance and emotion to what could have been an unsympathetic role if too glossy or saccharine. 

This is England doesn't really condemn gangs, as they are shown as having some positive attributes as well, but it does portray them as highly vulnerable to being usurped by stronger influences that can turn them from a group of friends to a radical wing of a fascist organization.  These gangs affiliate themselves with larger powers for the same reasons the individual members were attracted to the gang -- a feeling of acceptance, importance, and direction -- empty vessels for which to pour radical ideas into that can potentially turn young boys into monsters.

Qwipster's rating

©2007 Vince Leo