Monday, April 30, 2007

"This Is England"

Finally, the new Shane Meadows film "This Is England" has been released, and P and I went to see it last night on the Haymarket.

Hardly comfortable viewing, Meadows consistently makes excellent films and I've been saying for years that I think he is easily the best film director in this country. Hailing from Nottingham, I first became aware of Meadows in 1999 when his second feature, the remarkably excellent "A Room For Romeo Brass" was released. I was living in Nottingham myself at the time, and my then-boyfriend (who worked for Meadows' distribution company) sent me off on a press junket around the council estates of Nottingham with Meadows and some other journos to see where the film had been shot and to generally quiz Meadows. Then in his late-20s, Meadows was a likeable and enthusiastic man, self-taught as a director, who came across as having a genuine reason for wanting to make films. Rather than wanting the glamour of glitzy big-name actors, fancy budgets and poncy London locations, he favours the Midlands and little-known actors (many of the same faces reappear in his films) to make films with messages. Which is how we end up at "This Is England".

In 1983, 12-year-old Shaun (the astonishingly good Thomas Turgoose) is grieving for his father who has been killed in the Falklands. Bullied at school and misunderstood at home, he ends up being adopted as the mascot of a group of skinheads lead by the likeable, good-hearted Woody (Corrie and Emmerdale's Joe Gilgun) who kits Shaun out with a number one cut, a Ben Sherman shirt and some braces. Feeling accepted into Woody's gang, Shaun at last feels happy, despite being significantly younger than everyone else. This harmless idyll is disrupted when the vicious Combo (Stephen Graham) reappears after doing three-and-a-half years inside and attempts to recruit Woody's gang to his own National Front cell. Woody, his girlfriend Lol (Meadows regular Vicky McClure) and token black member Milky (another regular, Andrew Shim) all walk out in disgust, but Shaun decides to stay with Combo, having been convinced that joining the National Front is the only way to avenge his dad's pointless death. Needless to say, it all goes hideously wrong, starting with a shocking meeting in a back-room of a grubby pub led by Meadows stalwart Frank Harper and culminating in a vicious racist attack that becomes a pivotal point for Shaun.

Meadows doesn't deny that the film is partly based on his own formative experiences, and insists this is a good thing to add to the authenticity of "This Is England". And in The Times the Saturday before last, he gave a fascinating interview about the film, where he dismissed the Falklands as an "open act of bullying" - a fact sadly missed by Cosmo Landesman in yesterday's Sunday Times, when he wrote a ridiculous review claiming that "This Is England" was false and unconvincing, and then puts up the weakest, most pathetic argument I've ever read in a national newspaper for his cause.

"This Is England" is by far the best film I've seen all year (closely followed by "Das Leben Der Anderen"), and further proof that Meadows is the best thing happening in British cinema. "Twenty Four Seven", "A Room For Romeo Brass", "Once Upon A Time In The Midlands" and "Dead Man's Shoes" were all leading up to this. And if you watch all the films in order, the trail of Meadows traits are clear to see (revenge motifs, cameo appearances, hapless villains with a vicious streak and a dodgy car...). Really exciting, if harrowing, stuff.

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