Friday, May 22, 2009

THIS IS ENGLAND

by Tobias

> view trailer

Shane Meadows is a filmmaker by trade but he could also teach sociology. His powerful semi-autobiographical THIS IS ENGLAND illustrates quite frighteningly how lack of familial connection and economic downturn can generate violent class tensions.

Set in Thatcher’s England circa 1983 when the country had just come out of the Falkland War and was experiencing rising unemployment, the film charts the tumultuous adolescence of Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) an angry 12-year-old who joins a group of skinhead punks after repeated bullying at school. Within this ragtag gang he finds male role models that fill the void the death of his soldier father has left. The kind leader Woody (Joe Gilgun) takes Shaun under his wing and takes him to get his head shaved. Eventually the young boy completely adopts their wanton punk lifestyle; starts wearing their clothes, listening to their music, making out with girls, and finds a way to channel his rage through the vandalism of abandoned buildings. But his blissful new life of rebellion and acceptance takes a disturbing turn when Combo (Stephen Graham) a friend of Woody’s gets home from prison. This man’s racist ideas about England and her national identity stir up confused emotions in Shaun, and also split the gang.

The director's realistic portrait of subculture and disaffected youth is blistering. It effectually captures the intolerance and ideological supremacy of England’s early-'80s skinhead movement. Thomas Turgoose's performance as Shaun is solid and thankfully never precocious kid-film material, and Stephen Graham’s scary turn as the extreme and rather despicable Combo is simply explosive – a real scene stealing dramatic performance.

Shane Meadows nostalgically uses period punk rock and ska in an atmospheric way similar to the way Scorsese uses 60’s pop in his work.

This heartbreaking film closes with an appropriate homage to Francois Truffaut’s THE 400 BLOWS on a gloomy beachside; the innocence of a child’s face hauntingly staring into the camera. THIS IS ENGLAND balances that Truffaut lyricism with the gritty realism of Alan Clarke (SWEET SIXTEEN). In many ways, it’s the U.K.’s answer to Tony Kaye’s AMERICAN HISTORY X (1998).

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