|'In every manner an incredibly powerful film in the old fashioned sense of the word'.|
"Powerful" is a word too freely thrown around when describing film and television in the modern day. Can a contestant's performance on The X Factor truly be "powerful"? How about a Christmas advert for a department store, perhaps prominently featuring some arctic wildlife? It seems that "powerful" is currently on the same slippery slope that "awesome" found itself careering down during the latter part of the 20th Century. The upshot of which is that, when something genuinely powerful appears, describing it as such doesn't seem to do it justice. Something like This Is England, which is in every manner an incredibly powerful film in the old fashioned sense of the word.
Director Shane Meadows finds so many ways to make This Is England a film of genuine power and energy that it's impossible not to be affected by it. Set during the summer of 1983, Meadows unfolds a story inherently tied to the time in which it is set through the historical events - Thatcher's landslide re-election, the aftermath of the Falklands War - which serve as the backdrop, and which the director largely alludes to through effective use of archive footage at several points throughout. But it's also a tale with universal echoes that reverberate through Meadows' masterfully crafted film.
Whilst many of the cast of characters assembled by Meadows are finely crafted and authentic enough that they could have their own story - the driving factor behind Meadows' decision to make his trilogy of sequel small-screen serials to this film - This Is England is the journey of Shaun (Thomas Turgoose). A twelve-year-old boy still dealing with the death of his father in the Falklands, Shaun goes through more transformative experiences during one summer than characters in many other films go through in an entire lifetime. Turgoose's performance throughout is wonderful, taking in light and dark shades both comic and tragic, all handled with maturity and skill by the young actor. Child performers can often make or break a film, and Turgoose's authenticity and emotional depth go a long way to making This Is England the triumphant film it is.
Shaun arguably spends much of the film seeking out father figures, something he initially finds in the instantly likeable young skinhead Woody (Joe Gilgun), but which is most prominently displayed in his relationship with Combo (Stephen Graham). Through Combo, Meadows and Graham create one of the most captivating figures in all of cinema. From his first appearance onwards, Graham simultaneously makes Combo both intricate and enigmatic, as well as a loathsome and contemptible individual. Whilst plenty is suggested, Combo’s life and background largely remain a mystery; and yet Graham manages to form him into a character of depth, emotion and - despite his racist and bullying behaviour - charm.
As we see Combo's influence over Shaun - and indeed others - grow ever stronger, Meadows' film takes on an inevitable sense of tragedy and destruction that looms over his characters as in the bleakest works of Shakespeare and other master storytellers. The climactic moments are excruciating to witness, but command your attention for every second. More than just an outstanding piece of cinema, This Is England is a film that deserves to be seen. The characters cry out for you to experience their lives, their personalities, their emotions. It's a tour de force of film-making by Meadows that will undoubtedly leave an indelible imprint upon all who watch.