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This is England, Film Review

Set over the summer holidays of 1983, This is England focuses on Shaun, a lonely and bullied 12 year old boy who after moving to a run-down coastal town with his single mum, falls in with and joins a group of (surprisingly friendly) older skinheads. The Gang’s leader Woody provides a new role model, and Shaun’s new found friends act as both a new family as well as a new lease of life in parties, girls, Ben Sherman shirts, Doc Martin boots and shaven hairstyles.

The easy-going camaraderie and innocence of the gang is soon split though by the arrival of Combo, a much older man previously known by Woody before doing time inside for 3 years. Something that Woody managed to avoid due to Combo ‘keeping his silence’ for some past crime they did together.

Fresh out of prison, combo (who reminds me of a white version of Craig Charles) is now a dangerous, racist, National Front member who blames England’s economic woes, growing unemployment and post-war grievances on the influx of foreign minorities. He splits the gang in two asking members to join ‘his fight for England’. Shaun turns his back on Woody and joins Combo, feeling somehow that he owes it to his dad after his death in the Falklands War. Soon he submerges into the seedy world of National Front meetings and violence towards the local Pakistani community.

The film captures the mood of the time well and is interlaced with library footage of Roland Rat, Margaret Thatcher, Rubik’s Cubes, the Royal Wedding, The Falklands War etc, all adding to the feel of the film. It handles themes of masculinity, rejection, role models, violence and race-hate with ease. However although being a good film to watch, it’s spoilt by two main things;

Firstly the story and script has a feeling of improbability about it so you can’t help forgetting that it’s only a film you’re watching (although it is supposedly based on the personal experiences of Director Shane Meadows).  The gang are surprisingly welcoming to Shaun who’s roughly 4 years younger and well over a foot shorter in height. His standing in the group also seems a bit too high and he even get’s a 15 year old girlfriend who looms over him. Even the relationships, interaction and conversations between gang members seem at times too adult and just odd. This nagging feel to the film unfortunately takes away the emphasis on the great acting on show – Thomas Turgoose is cast brilliantly as the main character Shaun and plays his part very well. I’d even say he makes the film.

The 2nd thing is that the film ends far too abruptly. Combo who reveals his own emotional battles with rejection turns his prejudicial rage towards and then seriously assaults (even kills? – though you never find out) one of the main characters, thus instantly changing Shaun’s viewpoint. The film then launches back into various library footage of the 80’s before ending with a frankly naff final scene. At a little under an hour and 40 mins long it could easily have been tied together with a couple more scenes exploring what effect this fallout has, but as it stands the writing just trails off leaving it with an unfinished dissatisfied feel. Open ended films do work, but not so here.

As such this dissatisfied feel dampens the film, stopping a blatantly good film from being a great one.

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