THIS IS ENGLAND
Film review by John Pateman
This is England is the latest film from Nottingham based director Shane Meadows. Like his previous films, it is set in the white working class community of the East Midlands, and it was filmed in Nottingham and Grimsby.
It is the semi autobiographical story of Shane’s teen age years as a skinhead during the early 1980’s. This was the second wave of skins, following on from the original youth culture of 1969. The opening credits set the scene – to the beat of a heavy reggae soundtrack images are shown of Thatcher’s Britain and the Falkland’s War.
Shane’s father was killed in this conflict and he lives with his mum in a Council flat. She is not well off and his clothes are not fashionable. When he is taunted by a boy at school about his flared trousers and a joke about his father’s death, he flies into a rage and is caned for his crime.
Walking home that day he meets a bunch of skins who can see he is upset and ask him what’s wrong. A friendship with them develops and he adopts their image and dress – short haircut, Levi jeans and braces, Dr Marten boots and Ben Sherman shirt. Shane even gets a girlfriend but the peace of the group is shattered when Combo arrives fresh from 3 years in prison.
Combo is the star of the film – a very angry young white working class man who falls under the influence of the National Front and who splits the group of skins into those who are prepared to follow his narrow nationalist agenda. He literally draws a line on the floor and asks those who are with him to cross it. Most don’t but Shane does and he falls under Combo’s spell. Events turn increasingly sinister as an Asian shopkeeper is threatened and Combo is further frustrated when his approach to a young skin girl is rejected.
One of the skins, Milky, has a Jamaican background and Combo asks him whether he considers himself English or Jamaican. This is an echo of Norman Tebbit’s notorious English or Pakistani test which he set for young Asian cricket fans. Milky passes the test and Shane wraps himself in the England flag, but Combo’s rage against the world intensifies and this leads to a shattering climax to the film. Suffice it to say that Milky ends up in hospital and Shane ends up throwing his flag into the sea, as more images of dead and wounded Falkland’s soldiers from both sides are shown at the end of the film.
This film captures very well the context and environment of Thatcher’s Britain in which greed was good and there was no such thing as society. Combo was a product and victim of that society – he deserves understanding and empathy rather than condemnation. The film also enters the mindset of white working class youth and gives an insight into why they are so angry and resentful and how this can easily be turned into racial hatred and nationalism.
Shane Meadow’s previous films are also well worth watching for vivid and humorous vignettes of white working class culture – Twenty Four Seven; Once Upon a Time in the Midlands; A Room for Romeo Brass; and Dead Man’s Shoes. All are available on DVD.