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This is England: More Than Meets The Eye?

Updated on November 10, 2016

Released to The Public April 27th 2007

Shaun and Some of The Gang

The Facts, Accolades and Critical Review

This is England was first shown in 2006 at the Toronto International Film Festival. It quickly became a cult classic as it tackled sensitive subjects that shook our country nationwide throughout the 80’s and 90’s. That is the right-wing movement. Set in 1983, Shane Meadows’ This is England illustrates – with dramatic effect – how 1960’s west indies culture was adopted by white nationalists, in what can only be described as one of the most hypocritical movements in history.

A Film 4 release, This is England once again was a smash for British cinema. Winning Best British Film at the 2007 British Academy Film Awards and Best Film at the 2006 British Independent Film Awards, it is another key case – along with films such as Trainspotting and Bronson – that independent British films could fight it in the world of Hollywood big budget movies. Empire magazine rated the film 4 stars, saying this about Shane Meadows’ masterpiece:

“Deeply impressive, as both a recreation of 80s working-class England and an intimate tale of one childhood’s brutal end.”

It is one hell of a film. But it is a cinematic masterpiece that holds more than just what meets the eye.

Official Trailer

Combo and Lol Portrayed by Stephen Graham and Vicky McClure Respectively

The Plot (Spoilers Within)

It follows the life of a young boy called Shaun (played by Thomas Turgoose) as he descends from ‘normal’ school boy into a skinhead. He meets Woody (played by Joseph Gilgun – also seen in misfits) after getting in a fight with a school class mate once said peer makes an offensive joke about his dad – who passed away in the Falkland’s. Woody takes Shaun under his wing and introduces him to his friends. Woody’s girlfriend – Lol (played by Vicky McClure) begins to give to Shaun a makeover, personifying the culture of Levi’s Jeans, Doc Martens, Ben Sherman Shirts and short hair with the vulnerable boy. The other members of Woody’s gang – Milky (played by Andrew Shim), Gadget (played by Andrew Ellis), Meggy (played by Perry Benson), Pukey (played by Jack O’Connell) and Lenny (played by Frank Harper) – quickly accept Shaun as one of their own, and he soon begins to become part of the gangs structure as they spend each day generally mobbing around.

Suddenly, the group’s lives are turned upside down by the return of an old friend Combo (played by Stephen Graham) and his knife-wielding companion Banjo (played by George Newton). After reconciliations with the group, it eventually boils down to a dilemma. Since going to prison, Combo had become a radical, white nationalist whilst the other skinheads remained apolitical. A heated scene in his apartment sees him spread his nationalist views amongst the group using the phrase ‘This is England’ throughout, and one by one members of the group leave, embarrassed by their old friends turn to radicalism. A few stay behind with Combo, including Shaun, mesmerised by the speech that Combo gave as he specialised the subject to be personal to the young boy.

After visiting a National Front Rally, Pukey is kicked out of Combo’s group for having doubts and sent back to Woody. Combo becomes depressed when he finds out that Lol – despite them having sex once which led Combo to fall instantly in love with her – does not feel any emotion towards him. He buys cannabis from Milky and invites him to a party, where, rather quickly, appraisal of Milky’s upbringing quickly turns sour and violent. The final scene of the film shows Shaun walking at the beach, and he takes his saint Georges flag given to him by Combo, and throws it into the sea.

Explicit Content Within! Infamous Shop Scene

Deeper Than The Surface

As you can see, the film is an emotional roller coaster, full of humour and heartbreak. On the surface it appears to be the dramatisation of the manipulation of a child by a group of skinheads through the vulnerability’s in the child’s life – such as the death of his father. However there is a much deeper meaning to this unapparent fable.

Youth Culture 1980's

Let’s Take a Look at Shaun First

Shaun, the vulnerable child mourning the loss of his father in the Falklands is open to manipulation, and just like the German’s post-World War One or even the British since the recent depressions, he was looking for a scape-goat to blame for his loss. This character could easily be interpreted as being a symbol for British society at the time the film was set. After all, the public was still mourning the loss of many at the Falklands, and the North of England was still trying to survive the wrath of Thatcher. So already many had become radicalised in their own individual style – whether it be your timid miner turning to strikes or the uprising of white nationalists. There are many connections here, Shaun was in deep mourning and equally opens to radicalisation just like society as a whole, and a sweeping movement quickly moved in to offer some of the British public a vice for their hatred, which is where Woody and his gang come in to play.

Woody Portrayed by Joseph Gilgun

Woody and Co

Woody’s gang were a group of fun apolitical skin heads whose main goal was to listen to Jamaican rooted music and wear the fashion they loved. It offered a deprived group of working class men and woman the chance to express themselves, whether it was illicit or not. This could be easily interpreted as a metaphor for the majority of the British public who took to the skinhead culture like a duck to water. The reggae, ska and soul scene at the time was one of the biggest musical movements in Britain’s history, even continuing to disco as many Motown stars and old reggae veterans took to vocalising the genres tracks. Doc Marten and Ben Sherman are still to this day big household names as are the likes of Fred Perry (another chosen fashion brand by the skinhead culture) which goes to show that the movement as a whole was a nationwide sweeper, especially amongst the youth of the time who needed answers for the oppression they had passed down to them by their elders. The similarities between the group and the wider picture prove to me that the metaphor rings true. Even more so when white nationalists come to visit.

Combo and Co

Combo’s group of white nationalists are nasty, manipulative men. They support the National Front who at the time, and even now, spread un-educated hatred against all those that were not ‘true bred British’ however there was much hypocrisy amongst them. They followed the same culture as the apolitical skin heads mentioned above. With a passion for Jamaican music and other black cultures, the hatred they spread seemed to lack a considerable level of substance. Either way, Combo and Co are the dramatic interpretation for the nationalist movement as a whole. Okay that part is obvious, but when the links between each group are laid out, it becomes much, much deeper.

National Front Supporters Circa 2014

The Wider Picture

The way each group interacts is the key to this interpretation. Shaun’s ability to slip into the world of the apolitical skin heads is a key play out of how a fragile minded society could slip into a fad that may be self-destructive despite seeming fun and free on the surface. The interaction between Woody’s gang and that of Combo’s shows how the radicalisation movement gained momentum so quickly. Although many of Wood’s gang ignored Combo’s speech and went about their days much the same as before, there were a few that stayed by his side, including Shaun. This shows how the skin head movement was divided, with the majority sticking to being apolitical, but the momentum came from the few that stuck with the nationalists. If there were say, as few as 100 groups of 10 Skinheads and 3 of these became radicalised like Shaun, you would quickly have 300 radicalised skin heads. Multiply this number by the unfathomable amount of skin heads in the 1980’s and you quickly come to see how the movement grew into a phenomenon. This is the key link between the films characters and the real life situation in the country.

The Metaphor of Scapegoats and Self-Destruction Rings True Today

The Metaphor

So yes, I do believe that This is England has more than meets the eye. Although on the surface, some even see it as a glorification of the culture in the time. I actually believe that the film is instead a comment on society as a whole, and our increased ability to follow movements like a herd despite how destructive it can be. The worst thing? 10 years on from the film’s original release, the metaphor in this film still rings true. Even in 2016 we find ourselves in a society split between those who follow a culture and those who radicalise it and take its foundations and turn them into a cauldron of hatred. Even worse than this still, is the truth, and that unfortunately is the fact that the radicalisation nowadays is far more dangerous than the skin heads in 1980. The world is a different place now, and whether people are fond of it or not, multi-cultured societies are the ones which flourish in these tough times, and with weapons and even bombs on the streets and in the city’s we as a society must be more aware of our actions and more accountable for those that we manipulate.

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