Thirteen year old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is still mourning the death of his father in the 1982 Falklands War. By joining a skinhead gang where his confidence and maturity are nurtured, Shaun finally feels he has found a place where he belongs. When Combo (Stephen Graham), brother of the skinheads’ leader, is freed from jail, he steers the groups’ carefree mood into much darker territory. Turned into a racist militant faction, Shaun has to decide whether to let the wave of hatred consume his life or leave the group who are intent on becoming an army of adolescent anarchists.
This Is England looks at how ‘nationality’ can be twisted by people with a certain agenda. The economic and social rationalism of the Margaret Thatcher regime cunningly used the politics of division to stir up the ‘pride of the nation’ for its’ own purposes. This in turn gave racist organisations an excuse to infiltrate gangs all in the name of ‘Queen and Country’. The marginalisation of aspects of society left them fair game for other groups to exploit their anger. Choices and what we make of them is also another aspect that the multi layered scripts delves into.
It’s interesting seeing the skinhead movement before being hijacked by racist forces. Rooted in part in black culture, the reggae and ska loving group presented here seem accepting of all creeds. The early scenes reflect an era when people were more pro-active in standing up for their rights and creating their own path in life. Underneath the heavy messages within, the film has a strong moral centre and an almost odd charm that captures Shaun’s anxiety in finding someone to whom he can look up. The incidents of violence are more psychological than physical, but when the inevitable hardcore thuggery arrives, it’s all the more disturbing.
The first rate cast dive headfirst into their upfront roles. Thomas Turgoose provides a mature and understated performance which belies his young age. His character’s tough demeanour hides a vulnerable side that needs to be accepted. Stephen Graham as the brutish Combo deftly shows the powderkeg of hate that hides behind his eyes - just waiting to be ignited. Combo knows how to stir up the hatred inside his charges - even if he doesn’t fully understand what it is he’s fighting against. The very strong cast manage to evoke a time where Britons were still getting over the scars of war.
Shane Meadows directs this confronting film with assurance. The effects of ‘Thatcherism’ on early 80s Britain is seen in sharp focus, with her dubious political template still being used today. This Is England is an uncomfortably real look at the insidious social disease of racism, delivering its messages in a very gritty and powerful way.
Rating out of 10: 8