This is England
Reggae enthusiasts are sure to enjoy This is England. The film, released in 2006 and both written and directed by Englishman Shane Meadows, features three classics from the acclaimed Reggae group Toots and the Maytals. Maytals fans, who watch the movie, will be treated to performances of the jarring prison chant “54-46 was my Number”, “Pressure Drop”-one of the group’s whimsical dance numbers, and “Louie, Louie”-a cover of the Kingsmen’s drunken classic which the Maytals slow down, giving the song a pleasantly unique feel. Besides his good taste in soundtracks, Meadows displays a bright talent as both a writer and director. With “England’s” screenplay, he crafts an engaging narrative, set in early 1980’s Britain, which explores the advent of various working class Skinhead groups as a response to the decline of the nation’s industrial economy and increase in the size of its immigrant population.
Meadows’ protagonist, a twelve year old boy named Sean (Thomas Turgoose) who is raised by his Mother since his Father died in the Falkland War (still in progress during the time period the film portrays), lives in the poor section of an unnamed English city which has been spared none of the economic strife brought on by post-industrialization. Throughout the film, this reality of financial decay is constantly present as abandoned factories, graffiti ridden underpasses, and decrepit apartment complexes serve as the backdrop for most of the character interaction. Despite growing up in such an uncharacteristically harsh environment, Sean’s main difficulty in day-to-day life could be faced by any boy his age: he can’t seem to fit in at the local school. Due to his outdated clothing, Sean becomes a target for the insults of older children; yet, as the film progresses, being picked on turns out to benefit him, as it draws the sympathy of a number of older teens- who happen to be Skinheads. Sean befriends this rather dubious group, and the rest of the movie depicts the evolution of his relationships with its various members. Given the crude racism practiced by some people in the clique, Sean, by the film’s end, is forced to make a choice between maintaining his friendships and rejecting bigotry. For the impressionable twelve year old, this is anything but easy.
Meadow’s skill as a filmmaker becomes apparent in his ability to fluidly establish social and political context. He accomplishes this in England’s first three minutes where he, with “54-46” as sound, places a montage of news footage containing various elements of British life during the early 1980’s. These wordless images clearly show an England that is divided between a satisfied majority that passes its time ogling at Princess Di, taking dance aerobics, and, most importantly, voting for Margret Thatcher’s Tory government, and a frustrated minority that splits in two ideological directions: radical leftists are identified as they assault the Island Nation’s missile silos and Right-wing Skinheads while doing the same to the homes of immigrants. Meadows’ use of this montage marks an important innovation concerning the construction of polemical films. In the past, such movies, when trying to provide the viewer with contextual insight, have often resorted to fragmented discussion between characters that inevitably comes across as insincere (see Ghandi or another Skinhead film American History X for examples). Meadows, through his collection of news images, has found an effortless way to avoid this hitch. This simple, but clever style of directing remains constant throughout This is England and makes the film well worth watching.