Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

This is England. Gritty UK drama is a winner at Sarajevo, 2007

Sarajevo FF, 200

In case you think “TeenArena” means all fun and games and gyrating teenyboppers all in a row, the choice for this year’s TeenArena award will come as a wonderful surprise. The main players are young, in their teens or twenties, indeed, the lead role is played by a thirteen year old, but they have all been brutally thrown into an adult world. This film is maturely intelligent, meaningful and truly worthwhile for audiences of all ages.

This is England, Written and directed by Shane Meadows, Produced by Mark Herbert for FilmFour and the UK Film Council. (UK, 2006) This film tells the story of Shaun, a lonely youngster who faces scorn and bullies at his school. He eventually falls in with a group of local teenage skinheads. His new friends, led by a disarmingly inclusive skinhead, played by Joseph Gilgun, are exciting. They are dangerous and vandalistic, but at the same time accepting and psychologically supportive of him. He is seduced by the new feeling of belonging, and throws his lot in with them. However, a crisis occurs when an older skinhead, Combo, returns from prison and challenges the locals to join him in a much angrier, nazi-inspired political movement. In this new leader, played by Stephen Graham with a great intensity and power, we see how those feeling of belonging, loneliness and destructive energy can be channeled and focused into evil by a skillful demagogue, All the skinheads must choose between the two camps, and young Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) makes the wrong choice, convinced by Combo that the way to honor his father, recently killed in the Falklands War, is through racist nationalism.

This is an intricate story that invites reflection and discussion, but holds out little hope for easy answers. It weaves in footage of the war fought against Argentina, and the political climate of 1983, giving the story some sort of context. However, the story reflects social problems that are far more complex and ongoing than this context would suggest, and I found myself ignoring that backstory as I became engrossed by the powerful drama unfolding in this working class town. These teenagers are playing with fire, and the desire that some of them feel, to build a community amongst themselves based on mutual respect, is inevitably destroyed by the greed for power by madmen and leaders. Eventually blood is being spilled, and young Shaun has gotten a fuller understanding of what how he is being manipulated. The performances are beautiful, but I wanted to know more about some of the female characters. The only female to be given some development in the story is a garishly dressed girl named Smell, who begins a very improbable sexual relationship with Shaun. On the other hand, two far more interesting characters, Woody’s girlfriend Lol and Shaun’s mother, are left in the shadows. That said, it is difficult to see how the males’ parts could be trimmed to accommodate this, since each of the many characters present a slightly different point of view and manner of dealing with the predicament. It is this intricate interplay of the males that is so revealing and symbolic. This is England has already won the British Independent Film Award as Best Film of 2006, as well as some other recognitions there and at other festivals. It has well earned these honors as well as its place on the screen that movie houses grudgingly give over to independent films.

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May 9, 2009 - Posted by | cinema | , , , ,

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