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THIS IS ENGLAND

Director: SHANE MEADOWS

U.K.| 2006. COLOUR. DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO. 100 MIN.


The title makes a broad claim for Shane Meadows’ latest and finest feature, but the film is more than potent enough to back it up. Meadows has always been a brilliant chronicler of his own unquiet Midlands community, but here for the first time he has widened his scope to infer a wider cultural portrait of a nation, finding common insecurities in the self-aggrandising violence of skinhead youth and the vainglorious post-colonial breast-beating of the Thatcher-inspired Falklands War.

Characteristically for Meadows, the performances from the junior non-professionals are revelatory, especially master Thomas Turgoose as Shaun, who’s picked on at school because he looks younger than his twelve years, until he finds refuge in a gang of local skins. These are not the usual close-cropped thugs, but a surprisingly friendly lot, until they’re rejoined by the domineering Combo (Stephen Graham, in a star-making turn), fresh out of prison with a head full of racist hate, stoked up by the invective of the National Front. His convictions sweep along the impressionable, among them master Shaun (who lost his father in the Falklands), and we’re soon fearing the worst for the young lad.

From the brilliant 1983 time-capsule opening montage onwards, Meadows’ film-making has significantly developed in fluency, and the escalating tension is handled with genuine authority, weighted around the accurate observation that skinhead culture initially took shape out of a common love for late ’60s Jamaican ska. Here are cultural contradictions stretched to breaking point in what is, frankly, one of the great English films, eloquently torn between humane compassion and tortured self-questioning.—Trevor Johnston.

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