This is England ’83 / ’86 / ’88 / ’90

Konstantinos writes about the film that gave audiences a peek into youth culture and English society during the Thatcher era.

4 min read

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 This is England. A tear jerker by Shane Meadows, he creates a drama based on his childhood experiences. Midlander also introduced a few actors to the world. Thomas Turgoose, Joseph Gilgun, Jack O’Connell (whose part was written specifically for him), Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure (who becomes even more magnificent with every passing year), Rosamund Hanson, Chanel Cresswell, Michael Socha, and Andrew Ellis… all of them embody their roles, and truly become the everyday heroes you see on camera. The amazing Stephen Graham and Johnny Harris need no introductions.

The opening credits, the archival footage, the montage spanning from the Falklands war to the Knight Rider (1982)—all of this sociopolitical situation in England of the 80s, and the world. Shaun, Milky, Lol, Woody, Smell, Gadget, Trev, Kelly, Lenny, Pukey, and Bully go through the inescapable process of becoming men and women, a rite of passage. And share the story of a lifetime. I have included references from both the film and the mini-series, they start from ’83 and go on until ’90. I believe I’ve kept all spoilers out. If you haven’t watched it, I hope your interest is piqued. 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 looks into the state of mind of a gang of skinheads and ska lovers, preteens living in Thatcherland. It explores the mentality that shapes opinions on politics, economy, race, generation gaps, religion. This is England can also be read as “This is <your country of origin>.”

There are some astonishing cinematic moments that take both the film and mini-series to a league of their own.

  • The detestable Combo whose brutality and cowardice attack causes him to leave a young, black kid, half-dead.
  • Mick (the brilliant Johnny Harris) who makes your guts whirl whenever he shows up.
  • The dramatic moment when Lol confronts Mick.
  • Combo’s brass balls, the 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 revelation during dinner (Chanel Cresswell is simply mesmerising here).
  • Milky putting the final nail in the coffin, facing Combo, the hero in our eyes, who strives to keep a stiff upper lip.

This is England, it is…

  • the domestic violence that knocks on unsuspecting doors.
  • the decency of everyday people you have never met before, and probably never will again, who always had next to nothing, yet who were always wealthier.
  • the pride every English football fan has, in the national team making it to the World Cup.
  • the humour that has always characterised the British.
  • the vast diversity of accents that make this island unique.
  • the everyday struggle to keep one’s head above water, and finding the courage to move on.
  • the responses, reactions, idiosyncrasies, and mannerisms that you’ll find nowhere else.
  • the forgiveness some people never gave and others never received.
  • an unknown journey of happiness drowning in sorrow.

Combo: I forgive you… I just hope one day you’ll be able to forgive me…

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. This is England paints a picture of racism, but also of what happens when life relentlessly pins you against the wall.There are innumerable moments of English realism throughout the film and series, you may find yourselves confused as to which line readings are scripted, and which ones aren’t. This is England could as well be a sociological docudrama on Thatcherite England, and life itself.

About the author

Konstantinos got into TV and Film production immediately after school. He has been studying and working in this field ever since. In 2011, he won the Nostimon Imar Award (Best Greek Director Abroad) for his short film Ithacathat he wrote, edited and directed. The following year, he donated his documentary Asperger Syndrome: Myths & Reality to the National Autistic Society in the U.K. Konstantinos lives and works in the U.K. as a freelance Video Editor and Camera Operator for corporate videos, fashion shows, and documentaries. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Film at the University of Nottingham and reviewing films on his own blog.

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