“Combo: Men have laid down their lives for this. For this… and for what? So people can stick their fucking flag in the ground and say, “Yeah! This is England (pointing to the ground). And this is England (pointing to the heart)! And this is England (pointing to the mind)!”
Danny Cohen’s ’80s grainy cinematography and Ludovico Einaudi’s heartbreaking soundtrack accompany Midlander Shane Meadows, who creates a tear-jerking, life drama based on his childhood experiences, that debuted and elevated actors who were introduced to the world. Thomas Turgoose, Joseph Gilgun, Jack O’Connell – whose part was written specifically for him, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure who, as the years pass by, she turns into a more and more magnificent actress and woman, Rosamund Hanson, Chanel Cresswell, Michael Socha, and Andrew Ellis get into the role and truly become the everyday heroes you see on camera. The both amazing Stephen Graham and Johnny Harris need no introductions.
Straight from the kick-off, the opening credits, archive footage, montage spanning from the Falklands war to the “Knight Rider” (1982) pretty much sums up the story of the sociopolitical situation in England but also the world in the ’80s. Shaun, Milky, Lol, Woody, Smell, Gadget, Trev, Kelly, Lenny, Pukey, and Bully all go through a rite of passage; the inescapable process of becoming men and women. And share the story of a lifetime. The references are from both the film and the mini-series and start from ’83 until ’90. I believe I’ve kept all spoilers out. If you haven’t watched it, I hope they pique your interest. If you have, I hope you see where I’m coming from.
“Woody (to Milky): You are a fucking snake in the grass… We were brothers… I would have died for you… I would have fucking died for you… I fucking loved you!!!”
“This is England” is a state of mind that divides a what would have been an otherwise carefree, bonded, random ragtag bunch of skinheads and ska lovers living in ‘Thatcherland’. A mentality that consists of politics, economy, race, generation gaps, and religion and can be may as well translated as “This is [YOUR COUNTRY OF ORIGIN]”.
There are some astonishing cinematic moments that make both the film and mini-series be a league of their own.
- The detestable Combo whose brutal, cowardice attack leaves a young, black kid half-dead.
- Mick (the brilliant Johnny Harris) who, whenever shows up, make your guts twirl.
- The dramatic moment where Lol confronts Mick.
- Combo’s brass balls, ultimate sacrifice for love.
- The intense moment when Woody confronts Milky and the gang on the street.
- Woody reuniting with the repentant Combo upon the latter’s release.
- The house dinner’s revelation (Chanel Cresswell is simply mesmerising).
- Milky putting the final nail on the coffin facing, the hero in our eyes, Combo who strives to keep a stiff upper lip.
“This is England”…
Is the domestic violence that knocks on the door of every single household that has faced it.
The decency of everyday people you probably have never met and maybe you never will who always had next to nothing, yet were always wealthier.
The pride of every English football fan has over the national team making it to the World Cup.
The genuine British humour that has always been part of but also characterised the British society.
The vast diversity of accents that make this island unique.
It is the everyday struggle to keep the head above water.
It is the everyday struggle to keep the head above water and, against all odds, somehow, find the courage to move on.
It is the English responses, reactions, idiosyncrasies, and mannerisms that you’ll find nowhere else, exhibiting England to the world with the purpose of understanding rather than judging.
It is the forgiveness some people never gave and some people never received.
“Combo: I forgive you… I just hope one day you’ll be able to forgive me…”
“This is England” pointing to the ground, to the heart, to the mind starts off as a racist interpretation at the beginning of the journey only to become the harsh realization of life when it remorselessly pins you against the wall. Combo’s (Stephen Graham) monologues and outbursts are phenomenal and his path is the cornerstone of this journey. You will hate him with a passion in the beginning only to feel for him wholeheartedly in the end.
There are innumerable moments of English realism throughout the film and series where you will find yourselves confused as to which utterances, actions, and reactions are a scripted, and which ones aren’t. “This is England” could as well be a sociological docudrama on Thatcherite England and life itself.
An unknown journey of happiness drowning in sorrow…