|'Delivers some of the most well-executed moments not just within This Is England, but in British television drama as a whole'.|
Quite a lot has been made about director and co-writer Shane Meadows declaring This Is England '90 to be the final chapter in his tragicomic kitchen sink saga. If this is indeed the final time we get to see Lol (Vicky McClure), Woody (Joe Gilgun), Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) and the rest of the gang Meadows has allowed us to get to know intimately over one film and three series, if nothing else it will certainly feel like the end of an era that has as a narrative spanned seven years of British history, and almost a decade of TV and film-making.
As an overarching series, This Is England has delivered some genuinely powerful moments of tragedy, emotion, violence and laughter. Meadows has expertly blended laugh-out-loud humour with gut-wrenching pain, making his franchise simultaneously one of the most enjoyable yet the most hard-hitting of recent years. By the time '90 rolled around, many felt they knew what to expect. Which is why the opening episode of the four-part mini-series, "Spring", will come as something of a surprise to some.
Save for a few scenes depicting the continuing fallout of Shaun's break-up with Smell (Rosamund Hanson), the doom and gloom are largely gone. Lol and Woody are happy. Woody and Milky (Andrew Shim) are mates again. There's the welcome return of cartoon duo Flip (Perry Fitzpatrick) and Higgy (Joe Dempsie) - absent during the punishingly heavy This Is England '88 - and a ludicrous scene involving Woody's old boss Mr. Squires (William Travis) and a cupboard. If Meadows ever were to make a straight-up sitcom, it would probably look and feel like much of '90's first episode.
Meadows almost gets away with lulling his audience into a false sense of security. Almost. In amongst the relatively light tone and ambling plot progression of the second episode, "Summer", we get some harrowing scenes that hint at the skeletons Meadows is preparing to shove out of a few closets when episodes three and four, "Autumn" and "Winter", roll around. We also get another example of what Meadows has done superbly since '86: taking a relatively peripheral character from previous instalments - in this case Kelly (Chanel Cresswell) - and creating a plot arc of genuine depth and emotion. Cresswell has been a solid supporting presence since 2006's This Is England. Here, much like McClure in '86, she transforms into a captivating lead actress.
Simply put, the final two episodes deliver some of the most well-executed moments not just within This Is England, but in British television drama as a whole. The dinner table scene at the centre of "Autumn" is arguably the best acted and directed sequence you'll see on any screen, small or big, this year. As Meadows sets up his player's starting positions for the feature-length final episode, his entire saga begins to take on a satisfying symmetry. Matters that have been waiting for their resolution since the original film, most prominently those between Milky and Combo (Stephen Graham), resurface and come full circle, although possibly not in the way many may have expected.
The way in which Meadows leaves his characters at the end of '90 means that, should he choose to make one, there could quite easily be a new chapter in the saga. Whilst there will no doubt be a part of many This Is England fans that hopes it will happen somewhere down the line, it's hard to deny that Meadows' final series allows the franchise as a whole to go out on a resonant, brilliant high.