EmptyThis Is England
ROME — It was grim growing up poor and working class in the Britain of the early 1980s, as this film by Shane Meadows makes clear.
Part coming-of-age saga, part elegy for a time best forgotten, "This Is England" charts the trajectory of a disillusioned child who joins an older skinhead gang and becomes involved with neo-Nazi politics. Its tough but moving neo-realist approach make it one of the better British films of recent times.
The film's politics are England specific, but it could still do well in upscale urban theaters in the U.S. Those unfamiliar with 1980s England will still be touched by the boy's plight. The film played in competition at the RomaCinemaFest, where it received a standing ovation at the public screening and won the Special Jury Award.
The story revolves around 12-year-old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), who lives in dilapidated public housing in England's depressed North. Shaun shares the despondency of his unemployed elder peers, and joins their skinhead gang. The boy quickly takes to the right wing ideology of the National Front — a neo-Nazi party, favored by skinheads, whose main policy was racist attacks on Britain's Pakistani immigrants. Shaun finally realizes that the NF is just a front for violent psychological tendencies, and enters his teens with a clearer mind.
Meadows grew up in the 1980s, and it shows in the almost perfect replication of the times. The vernacular and the political and social attitudes are flawlessly rendered. The politics of the time are nicely referenced with news clips of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Falklands War, anti-nuclear missile protests at Greenham Common, and so on.
The nub of the film is contained in the title. What exactly is it to be English? The film's brutal examination of nationhood is doubly interesting as Britain is re-examining its ideas of multiculturalism in the light of its homegrown terrorist problem.