It is Post Falklands 1983 Britain, and an isolated twelve year old finds unlikely succour and acceptance with a bunch of older skinheads, but the innocent, if somwhat destructive idyll is interrupted by the return of NF convert Combo from a spell in stir..…
This film confirms Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands) as the most important emerging British Director of the 21st Century and the heir to the Mike Leigh/Ken Loach school of radical and important film makers, This England will rank as one of the best British pictures of the last ten years. It is that good.
The piece works on so many levels as it can be viewed as a simple 80’s nostalgia flick or a Rites of Passage film, almost in isolation of the context as young Shaun turns from a weedy and bullied misfit, to becoming someone who knows, and has experienced far too much for a boy of his age.
But it can also be viewed as a Polemic, an analysis of how the slum clearances of the ‘Sixties with a huge dollop of Thatcherism added into the mix, saw a significant minority of people just shovelled off onto the margins of society and placed on huge Sink Estates such as Bransholme, and Sandy Hill on the edge of Farnham, Surrey where we lived for five years.
Hard core Social Exclusion simply has not been addressed by the Blair Government, and despite the Prime Ministers best and sincerest efforts, the latest Government figures show us that a massive 170,000 young people between the ages of 16-25 are part of Frank Field’s NEET (NEither in Employment or Training) which equates the Lost Generation of the Somme. They exist on a diet of drugs and alcohol financed via petty crime and nothing that the Labour Government has done seems to have touched these individuals.
SureStart, the New Deal, Tax Credits and the like have raised a million kids out of poverty and created an extra 2 million jobs in the economy thus giving millions the opportunity to engage in a constructive way with Society and that is to be applauded, but how to reach these lost souls? A tough one, but a question that can’t be ignored as, astonishingly only 5% of criminals are responsible for (get this) 90% of ALL crime committed, this from the 2006 Crime Survey whose figures are used by the Home Office and quoted in the Gruniard Society section last month.
Meadows was interviewed on the South Bank Show last night, describing the auto biographical elements to his latest offering and going on to admit (as I suspected) that he felt intimidated by the cast on Once Upon a Time in the Midlands and a result he didn’t make the most of his first “budget” film.
As a result Dead men’s Shoes (2004) took him back to his more improvisational roots, with little known actors (Paddy Consadine apart) which helped restore his confidence to come back with this picture.
The actors made this film, as they basically played themselves in situations devised by Meadows who just briefed them and let them work it out amongst themselves. A proven gambit and thus the Producer was not in the least bit perturbed when the script arrived and it informed him; “There is no ending butwe have some pretty bloody good ideas!”.
Shaun’s father has been killed in the Falklands and Meadows leaves us with no question about where he stands on this squalid little War and how Thatcher sacrificed the lives of hundreds of young men, many the result of economic conscription, at the altar of some nebulous conception of Britishness, and our Place in the World. I personally found those sequences very upsetting, and only served to remind me why I became politically active the following year and joined the Labour Party as a way to fight back.
Initially Shaun becomes a skin as a means of belonging, a trait inherent in us all especially if you have a dysfunctional family home situation and no immediate family around. Yes, I can make the link and I’m grateful it WAS the Labour Party.
I came from North Hull, neither well off nor poor but for those in Meadows situation the National Front provided the trite answers.
I don’t believe that the Left DID let down the White Working Class then, we campaigned on lots of issues surrounding poverty and deprivation and the magnificent example set by Liverpool City Council until Militant gained sole control, showed that there was a way forward with people taking a lead locally to make their communities better for all whilst providing quality Social Services for the most vulnerable.
But the Far Right had fertile ground for their cancerous ideas to spread, but we beat them then, and we must do so again by regaining the agenda and actually saying; “Yes, we understand your fear, we appreciate that community feels beleaguered and under threat”, instead of denouncing such notions from the comfort of Islington (or Kirk Ella for that matter).
Michael and I found ourselves in Whitechapel in January and we both agreed that if you were of the older White generation then you would be angry and resentful at the demographic make up of your community and rightly ask; “How has this been allowed to happen?”
I’m going to say directly what “this” is. In that concentrated area of London, you would be hard pressed to see anything other than Bengalis, and that must be hard to take and make it easy for the BNP to prey on local fears.
In the film Combo states these sort of feeling in violent racist language, and it is the Meadows credit that he deals with this very openly, exposing his arguments and describing how the Leaders of the BNP and such organisations are deeply flawed and inadequate individuals who seek recognition via the power of bullying.
This film is both important and a great picture for the nostalgia, music, great acting and atmospheric photography. A brilliant contribution to British Cinema.