Against the backdrop of the Falklands war, Thatcher and the rise of the National Front, This Is England begins with bored, fatherless and picked upon Shaun finding solidarity with the local skinhead gang. Played wonderfully by cheeky newcomer Thomas Turgoose, Shaun quickly warms to the gang’s carefree attitude.
But everything changes with the arrival of Combo who has just been released from prison. Played by Stephen Graham (Gangs of New York, Snatch) with the right blend of menacing charm and pathetic self-pity, Combo soon divides the gang between those who follow his nationalist rhetoric and those who see that underneath the anti-immigration rants and flag waving is a dangerous voice of racial hatred.
Director Shane Meadows has already demonstrated his talent for using mainly non-professional actors and an unobtrusive film style to create a sense of everydayness. Inspired by events from his adolescence This Is England matches the quality of Meadows’ impressive earlier films 24 7: Twenty Four Seven and A Room for Romeo Brass
Part homage to original skinhead culture and part warning about xenophobia disguised as patriotism, it is also a coming of age story about impressionable Shaun whose naivety sends him into a world of unintended viciousness.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 286, 2007