This week, the YouTube algorithm decided I was going to be obsessed with “This Is England” for a few days. I watched the film years ago and remembered it as being very good but I had never watched the TV series that followed. YouTube recommended the “Shaun meets the Skinheads” clip. It’s a great clip, a great introduction to the characters and a really good example of the dialogue and chemistry of the film. It’s been a long time since I’ve properly binged anything but that clip kicked off an urgent viewing of the film and series and a lot of shitty promo interviews.
I really like the whole series. The characters are great and the stories work really well. I love the exploration of subcultures and the creation of worlds in stories in general and “This Is England” is a really immersive series for that. The cast are very solid and the acting is very natural. I think that’s something that’s missing from most film or TV with very young casts. The improvisation element to the acting obviously helps with that but that’s a bit ask of young actors so it’s a real testament to all the performances. That ties the actors to the characters very closely and I wonder if that is part of why so many of the cast have had low key careers outside of the show despite their obvious talent. I would hope that it’s by choice and that young actors don’t want to stay in acting when they grow up, but I can see how they could become typecast since there are so many iconic roles in the series.
“This Is England”(2007)
I think the film is great because it sells you these characters. As I said above, I had seen the film but not the TV series that followed, but I was sold on the characters based on the film, I would have watched anything they did next. The characters are so natural and real. The atmosphere is is quite light to begin with. The scenarios are childhood scenarios. The group of skinheads are actually quite sensitive. Then when Stephen Graham appears as Combo, there’s a real tonal shift. Things get very tense and a little scary. Suddenly, Thomas Turgoose’s Shaun is a mini grown man. More than that, he’s a tiny evil racist. There’s brain washing and angry men dealing with their emotions terribly, on an individual and national political level. The soundtrack is also solid, I have a lot of time for those Toots and Maytals hits.
“This Is England ’86” (2010)
My hopes for the TV show were very low. As the writer and director of the series, Shane Meadows, has said, the bar was pretty low at this time for movie from film to television. And there were some big changes to the show. The focus shifts from Shaun to the wider cast a bit more. It follows Woody, played by Joe Gilgun, and Lol, played by Vicky McClure, more closely. It deals with that phase where those two in particular are supposed to be growing up. There’s much goofier moments. Meggy and Banjo, who were Combo’s henchmen, seem to become a comic relief duo. Meggy’s heart attack is played for laughs and a distraction from other growing issues. There’s also much grimmer moments. The tension isn’t as scary, it’s more a sense of dread as things fall apart. There are two very disturbing scenes however towards the end which are very tough to watch and link back to the gruesome pinnacle of the film.
“This is England ’88” (2011)
This season is super fucking grim. There’s something about basing it around Christmas that multiplies the bleakness. It’s a very honest season. Everyone is heartbroken to some degree. It’s tough going because they’re all characters that I had come to love. There’s lots of exploration of the break up of romantic relationships in art, but the break up of friendship is always one that gets me.
“This is England ’90” (2015)
’90 is a great season as someone who enjoys the subcultures. Gadget, played by Andrew Ellis, has always been the best cultural indicator character and I really appreciated his Madchester look. The extremes of the show get more polarized. The goofiness of Flip and Higgy is cranked up and the the bleakness of Combo’s return is incredibly tough going.
There’s been talk of another series and lots of talk about it being finished and it’s a dangerous thing. The series has been fantastic and it’s been amazing to follow characters as they grow, but there’s a real balancing act in giving an audience what they want and the the integrity of it all. It can’t and shouldn’t go on forever and there’s a lot of merit in ending on a high.