The Movie Binge

This Is England


So, I guess because I grew up in America, I was under the mistaken impression that skinheads are, by definition, neo-Nazis, or at the very least racist. Well, I learned something today. Only half of skinheads (a completely arbitrary estimate that will not hold up to any statistical evidence, so don't bother) are racist. The other half are some pretty chill dudes who just want to listen to Toots and the Maytals and wear Doc Martens.

This Is England, based on some of director and writer Shane Meadows's experiences, follows a turbulent school holiday of 12-year-old Shaun, played pitch-perfect by Thomas Turgoose, who is possibly the best child actor I've ever seen. Set in 1983, Shaun's father has recently died in the Falklands War. In addition, the young lad is picked on by his peers (and, in this reviewer's opinion, understandably so) for wearing bell-bottoms and generally looking like a hippie. After a chance meeting with a group of amiable skinheads, led by the immediately likable Woody (Joseph Gilgun), he starts dressing like them, shaving his head, and getting into the variety of light-hearted mischief that makes little gits such lovable scallywags. Oi!

Unfortunately, the mixed group of friends is put to the test when former convict and raging fuckwad Combo (Stephen Graham) shows up and tries to coerce the errant lads into hate and "Paki"-bashing. His arguments stem from chestnuts—so fresh in our American minds from our own recent fantods over immigration—on the importance of national identity and accusations of job-theft by immigrants. Paper tigers like the Falklands War and unemployment are presented and torn up, naturally, without clear logical pretext for the vandalism and intimidation that follows. From then on the threat of violence raises the tension on the otherwise capricious goings-on, and, as any novice screenwriter will tell you, you don't introduce a gun (or, in this case, an emotionally unstable bigot) into a story unless it's going to go off in the third act. If a horrible act of mindless violence offends, one probably shouldn't seek out this film.

Thematically, the film touches on all sorts of theoretical touchstones. The idea of nationhood, spiritual fatherhood, coming of age tropes, politics, prejudice and class status are all packed so densely into the context of the pleasantly divergent narrative that this film could easily function as a subject for any number of undergrad theses. That it manages to come off as fresh and engaging despite the well-worn subject matter, though, is proof of how well all the simplest elements of cinematography, editing and scripting come together to make a truly entertaining and affecting film, brimming with appropriate social commentary and genuine pathos. For this, I have to say that This Is England is the best movie I've had all Binge.

Or maybe I just really dig British accents.