The Iron Lady versus a pint-sized skinhead

This Is England

on July 27, 2007 by John P. McCarthy
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Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's reputation as the “Iron Lady” was solidified by the summer of 1983. Although her steely determination to best every perceived foe, domestic or foreign, never waned during her long premiership, she had just won reelection on the heels of Britain's lopsided victory over Argentina during the Falklands War. But had their paths ever crossed, she might well have met her match in this film's pugnacious lead character, a 12-year-old boy called Shaun. Offering a psychological diagnosis of the nation, writer/director Shane Meadows links the plight of his pint-sized protagonist with the dark side of Thatcher era.

This Is England resonates on a very particular and personal level because the lad is an autobiographical composite and because Meadows found a terrific streetwise youngster, Thomas Turgoose, to portray him. He feels like the real McCoy and so does the movie. Shaun lives in an unnamed, economically blighted northern coastal town. His father died fighting in the Falklands. Lonely and grieving, Shaun gets bullied but doesn't put up with much; he's a tough little bugger—a blond bulldog quick with a verbal or physical retort.

One day he falls in with a group of skinheads led by Woody (Joe Gilgun). They cut his hair, give him the proper clothes and engage in some relatively harmless hooliganism. Then, the much older Combo (Stephen Graham) returns after a stint in prison and begins spouting hardcore racist and nationalist views that attract Shaun but sour most every other gang member, including Milky (Andrew Shim) who's of Caribbean extraction.

Meadows, whose previous credits include A Room for Romeo Brass and Once Upon a Time in the Midlands , here relies on montages and the eclectic soundtrack to make his points. Yet the connections he makes between skinhead jingoism, Thatcher's aggressive governing style and an aimlessly spunky kid coming-of-age are trenchant. With dynamism and authenticity, Meadows simultaneously criticizes and fondly remembers a time in his nation's history when the rage of angry young men clashed with and complimented their strong-willed leader, the first to wear a skirt and wield a mean handbag.
Distributor: IFC First Take
Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun, Rosamund Hanson, Andrew Ellis, Perry Benson and George Newton
Director/Screenwriter: Shane Meadows
Producer: Mark Herbert
Genre: Drama
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 98 min.
Release date:  July 25, 2007 NY
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