This Is England (2006)

5/5

UK; Shane Meadows

Mature Audiences - Pervasive Strong Language; Brief Strong Violence

 

 

Harassed and bullied by this peers, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), a 12-year-old fatherless boy, befriends a gang of outlandish, but inoffensive skinheads, led by Woody. A real bond develops between them and the boy ardently discovers a frantic, chaotic lifestyle: the wild parties, the girls, the camaraderie. When a charismatic and altogether more dangerous ex-con (Stephen Graham) emerges from Woody’s past, Shaun’s escapade takes an abrupt turn into darker territories and things spiral out of control.

 

At first sight, there is nothing groundbreaking about Meadows’ coming-of-age drama. The first act is warm, moving and subtly funny, but nothing can really get us ready for what is to come next. Of course, one can sense there is something lurking beneath the surface, some sort of dark twist, but, truth to be told, the follow-up is an altogether different beast. Powerful, shattering, mesmerizing, in brief a smashing masterpiece; by its final frame, This Is England will have knocked you dead. The script is beautifully written − nervous, alert, intense, cruel − building towards a heightened, dizzying climax. The actors are top-notch and the camerawork of a refreshing minimalism. With stylistic flourishes kept to a deliberate minimum, This Is England is realist social cinema at its very best: hard-hitting, gritty and sorely honest. But it’s also much more. This Is England is - surprisingly - a beautifully poetic object. There is something inarticulate, beyond words, about this vaguely elegant brute of a film, littered with profanity, unflinchingly brutal, of a truly dismaying emotional violence. It finds spurts of sad, absurd poetry in the darkest places. Underneath the angry exterior, This Is England has a warm, throbbing heart.

 

The story centers on young Shaun and his psychological trip from innocence to experience, but it’s Stephan Graham’s Combo, a charismatic but all-too-human monster, who steals the show with his demented, hypnotic performance. Blazing with anger, he will teach Shaun the sinister triptych that became his religion: hatred, violence, power. And lurkig behind the machismo, fear... In a disturbing sort of way, he completes the surrogate family Woody’s gang became for the orphaned boy: if the clownish, paternal Woody acted out the mother, now the young man turns to a altogether more imposing, feral figure to play the part of his missing father.

 

Fiercely desisting any simplification or monochrome categorization, This is England is an unforgettable achievement, of a staggering emotional intensity and of a fascinating complexity. Unmissable!

 

 

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