|'Joe Gilgun delivers a central performance which continually demonstrates what a comprehensively exceptional acting talent he is'.|
Whilst the original film This Is England and first follow-up series This Is England '86 were hardly a barrel of laughs, Shane Meadows' sophomore TV serial This Is England '88 in many ways cranks the misery up a few notches further. It's a tonal decision which ultimately means that the third instalment of Meadows' intimate saga, relative to the outstanding first and second, ends up as just very, very good.
One of the key components within the success of This Is England as a whole series is the way in which laugh-out-loud moments of comedy are able to counterbalance the punishing drama, often by sitting perfectly alongside one another. This Is England '88 is the first time that Meadows as director and co-writer with Jack Thorne doesn't quite get that ratio right. There are humorous elements here - mostly seen in Woody's (Joe Gilgun) interactions with his parents Richard (Steve Brody) and Barbara (Rebecca Manley) and new girlfriend Jennifer (Stacey Sampson) - but they feel much scarcer, as well as shifting to a more awkward style of comedy than seen in either the previous series or original film.
Elsewhere, This Is England '88 continues the strengths seen earlier in the saga. Lol (Vicky McClure) occupies a central role once again, still mentally and emotionally dealing with the fallout of the devastating events of 1986. McClure is superb once again, revealing more and more layers within Lol as a character, particularly through a pair of heart-wrenching scenes with nurse Evelyn (Helen Behan) and then Combo (Stephen Graham) in the second episode. The supporting cast are again strong, although one or two characters we have grown to love by this point, such as Gadget (Andrew Ellis) and Harvey (Michael Socha), are given too few moments to truly shine.
This Is England '88's greatest triumph, however, is finally giving Gilgun as Woody a genuine leading role. If This Is England is Shaun's (Thomas Turgoose) story, and This Is England '86 is Lol's, then this series is arguably Woody's. Having provided prominent and invaluable support throughout the saga up to this point, Gilgun delivers a central performance which continually demonstrates what a comprehensively exceptional acting talent he is.
After spending the first and second episodes flawlessly putting across the hurt and anger Woody is repressing within himself, Gilgun delivers a tour de force during the final episode. This is particularly evident through an early scene in which he unexpectedly comes face to face with his former best friend Milky (Andrew Shim), as well as during the series' final scenes. At these moments, This Is England '88 is as powerful, emotional and utterly gripping as the series ever has been.