Starting with the 2007 seminal British film of the ‘noughties, the This Is England franchise is here for it’s final outing. The third TV series sees the gang dealing with the fallout from abuse, Thatcher’s monumental onslaught on working class life, the rave scene and ultimately their relationships with each other and the outside world.
Vicky McClure and Thomas Turgoose have rightly taken the plaudits along with Stephen Graham over the course of the narrative, but Michael Socha (Harvey), Chanel Cresswell (Kelly) and Andrew Ellis (Gadget) along with Chanel Cresswell as Kelly and Danielle Watson who plays Trev have really come to the fore; Watson’s role in a rape storyline TIE 88 was particularly harrowing.
The ensemble nature of the cast, strong on improvisation is a massive strength of the show. Sometimes chemistry between actors can catapult seemingly unpromising material with limited appeal into the stratosphere, and that is what has happened during the This is England series.
TIE is one of the greatest dramas ever produced due to it’s ability to weave the existential human imperatives of human life into a narrative that flows in such an understated natural way whilst totally engaging the audience with the ins and outs of the characters progress. Their stories of bullying, racism, toe curling bosses, dysfunctional families and trying to have fun keep you hooked. And the soundtrack is brilliant in all parts.
The series works on so many levels as it can be viewed as a simple 80’s nostalgia with a Rites of Passage theme thrown in almost in isolation of the political context as young Shaun (Turgoose) 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. But the solidarity of the fish docks and the factory could not be crushed by Thatcher and Meadows shows how basic human decency can trump all.
No punches are pulled and the scene between young single mother Lol (McClure) who suffered abuse at the hands of her rapist father, and her community nurse (Helen Behan) is one of the powerful pieces of television anyone could have ever witnessed.
Despite the euphoria around the election of the Labour Party in 1997 hard core Social Exclusion simply was not addressed by the Blair Government. When Blair left office in 2007 a massive 170,000 young people between the ages of 16-25 were 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 did seems to have touched these individuals. This has only been compounded by the Tories destruction of Social Security and employment protection for the under 25’s. By March 2015 youth unemployment stood at 498,000, the worst in 20 years. It will only get worse.
This then leads young people to seek trite answers in the Far Right and the poison they propagate is dealt with head on in the film. But the real failure lies with the Left for not engaging and promoting a realistic socialist alternative. Corbyn’s Labour Party has that opportunity, but whilst the vested interests of Labour Councils and the gravy train continues unchallenged the Left in Labour is doomed to fail. A new Party needs to come out of the mass movement created by the Corbyn campaign if cynicism is not to win the day. Labour may talk socialism in Westminster, but if Labour Councils would rather impose Tory cuts and borrow for vanity projects instead of necessities such as housing then the newly energised public will either give up, or look elsewhere for answers to the crisis of Capitalism.
Shane Meadows joins the greats of British writing alongside Jimmy McGovern, Ken Loach, Alan Bennett and Denis Potter.
This Is England is funny, tragic, optimistic, challenging and entertaining. It is a masterpiece and I will be sad when it takes it’s final curtain call on Sunday night.