diamond geezer

 Saturday, April 28, 2007

Screen 1: This Is England (18)

It's July 1983, and life on a Grimsby housing estate isn't a lot of fun when you're a lonely nearly-teenage boy wearing his Dad's cast-off flares. But there's always a way out, and in young Shaun's case it involves a Ben Sherman shirt, a number two crop and some sub-standard not-quite-DM boots. There follows what ought to be an idyllic summer holiday of brace-snapping fun, larking around with a bunch of moonstomping skinhead mates. But a malevolent intruder is out to recruit the more impressionable gang members to his blindly nationalist cause, and Shaun's earlier innocence takes a rapid tumble. Ah yes, it can only be another semi-autobiographical Brit movie, this time from acclaimed independent film director Shane Meadows. He must be acclaimed because the South Bank Show are doing him on Sunday, and they're not getting around to Jarvis Cocker until June.

Shane's come up with a raw and powerful film, full of strained friendships and misplaced loyalties, set amidst a bleak post-Falklands urban landscape. It's a very frank and natural film which much of the time feels like it hasn't been scripted at all, and is all the better for it. It's an uncomfortable and emotional film, exploring flawed comradeship, the awkwardness of first love and deep hatred. But it's also a very moral and uplifting film, as one by one the main characters stand up to baseless racial prejudice and walk out of the spotlight.

Star of the piece is undoubtedly the actor who plays young Shaun, utterly convincing on his six-week journey from wide-eyed to world-weary. His tentative romantic scenes with an awkward punkette were a particular delight, though all too brief. I appreciated the attention to period detail, from Shaun's mum's frizzy perm and Su Pollard specs to a shop display of proper fizzy Corona lemonade bottles. But I left the cinema unnerved by the charismatic power of misguided seductive rhetoric, and the thin line that still exists today between passionate pride and blind bigotry. Because this is still England.

This Is England (official site) (film released yesterday)
• more reviews
Shane Meadows website (with all the latest news)
South Bank Show (29/04/07)
exhibition of skinhead photos at BFI Southbank (until 10 May)


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