Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Joseph Gilgun, Vicky McClure, Andrew Shim, Rosamund Hanson, Andrew Ellis, Perry Benson, George Newton, Jack O’Connell
Director: Shane Meadows
Review: This is England is one of my favorite movies which has brought me significant influence.
At the beginning of this movie, a collection of scenes describe the background and atmosphere of 1983. Social tensions are rising at home in England, and the Falklands War is happening, where a young twelve-year-old Shaun’s dad was killed. Shaun is depressed by the loss of his father in the war, and is being mocked and bullied by his peers about this and about the clothes that his mum dresses him in. Early in the film he is taken in by a second-wave skinhead gang led by Woody, who is friendly and welcoming to Shaun, taking him under his wing.
Everything goes on well until an older skinhead, Combo, who is much more complicated than the others gets out of prison. As soon as he comes back he begins brainwashing those teenagers an extreme version of “nationalism”, picked up in prison, which is actually closer to racism or neo-Nazism. Though Woody doesn’t buy it, some of Woody’s gangsters were easily converted, and “betrayed” Woody for Combo.
Innocent Shaun is one of them, anything that relates his sacrificial dad can fire him up at this time. Following Combo’s lead, they do a lot of anti-social and racially motivated behavior such as graffiti, robbing a store which is run by a Pakistani, and bullying Pakistani children… Shaun doesn’t realise the errors in this behavior until Combo beats their black friend Milky into pulp, which brings Shaun to his senses.
Each character in this movie has his or her own unique personality, sinking into or chasing some kind of psychological comfort. Shaun’s mother has been trying her best to fill the loss in Shaun’s heart though it must be her hardest time as well. She is tough enough to confront the gang in person which she felt was a bit too mature for Shaun to be hanging around with, despite feeling it's kind of inappropriate, she still decided to trust the gang to take care of him.
The gangsters were uniformly dressing in some iconic brands like Ben Sherman shirts and Dr. Martens boots to show their attitude. Meanwhile partying, drinking and taking drugs a lot. Woody is considered as the leader of the gang, but when his best friend Milky is racially abused by Combo for the first time he doesn’t stand up for him. With reference to the following series, Woody grew up in a warm and conservative family which might never influence him in any courageous or aggressive way. By contrast, in the entire story of both the movie and the series, it never releases any indication that Combo had much of a family, and while Milky is talking about his big lovely family, jealousy is coming out from Combo’s eyes.
Combo transfers his own unluckiness in life into the hate of other races. There are some points that might have prevented the violent ending if they hadn’t happened in this way. The first time Woody introduces Combo to everyone as “this dude spent three years for me in prison never says anything”, we can believe it is true because Combo goes to jail for Lol again afterwards in the following series. As I’ve mentioned above, Combo is the most complicated character in this story, he commits the worst sins, but in the meantime he is a very honorable man, never afraid to shoulder any responsibilities or protect his friends. That is also why he calmed Shaun down to help him to save Milky to hospital instead of just let him die after the attack. Earlier that day, Combo has a short talk with Lol whom he had a little romance with before he went to the prison, and it doesn’t go on well as Combo imagined, which despairs Combo, leading him to take this anger out on Milky later. Without any objective spiritual pillar, Combo has to fill himself up with weed alcohol and vainly right-wing pursuits. On the way back from a right wingers party meeting, Pukey who is one of the young skinhead gangsters asks Combo if he does believe those shits for real, which is totally pissing Combo off, he kicks Pukey out of the car in the middle of nowhere. I think it is because Pukey has said the key point which Combo is reluctant to face, he doesn’t want to lose the last excuse of being proud or mad, although he knows he was only a victim of politics.
It is a big journey for Shaun, beginning as an isolated fatherless boy, to joining the teenager skinhead gang as the youngest member of them, to finally becoming a protégé of Combo, though everything was just happening within a few months. At Shaun’s age, Shane Meadows was also becoming himself by experiencing those things. He is gradually understanding what he exactly needs in his life, instead of being stirred up into anger by vainness. It’s obvious how much that period has influenced Shane Meadows, most of his work is based on the growth environment of himself in the north of England. Apart from making the movie and the series of This is England, he has made a few other movies inspired by the gritty experience in his early ages as well, Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) tells a disaffected soldier returns to his hometown to get even with the thugs who brutalised his mentally-challenged brother years ago. A Room for Romeo Brass (1999) tells a naive but violent stranger befriends with 2 12-year-old boys.
At the end of This is England, Shaun goes back to the seaside where he chilled at the beginning of this movie in a completely different mood. He leaves the Saint George flag which Combo gifted him in the sea, having learned that there is no politics or belief could give him genuine mental liberation, and moving on from this violent chapter in his life.
This movie provides me a good chance to reflect on: What is “country” after all? Will we stop loving the land we grew up in if it changes its name? Is there anything else we badly need except sunshine, air, water, and love?