As I settled down on my sofa to watch this DVD, I hadn’t a clue what to expect. I knew very little about the story or about director Shane Meadows but I realised early on that there was something a little bit special about this film. Wonderfully talented newcomer Thomas Turgoos plays Shaun, a lonely 12-year-old who, as well as dealing with the loss of his father has a whole lot of pre-pubescent issues and can’t seem to fit in. After a day of being bullied for his terrible fashion sense, Shaun is taken under the wing of a group of friendly skinheads led by Woody (played by a charismatic Joseph Gilgun). They give Shaun a make-over (complete with Ben Sherman shirt, boots and of course — shaved head) make him part of the gang, give him some sense of identity and all while having a good old laugh. Then Combo, (played by the phenomenal Stephen Graham) the old gang leader, returns from prison with a big fat chip on his shoulder and a pro-National Front attitude. Combo, seeing his childhood self in Shaun, warms to him immediately and Shaun, searching for a father figure finds that Combo with his strong ‘principles’ fits that mould perfectly. Soon, Shaun starts to transform into a mini-Combo, a far cry from the innocent, impressionable kid we see at the start.<
Shane Meadows creates a film that is feels so natural it’s almost unsettling. You feel like you’re watching the neighbours over the garden fence but then at the same time watching from far away. The choice of actors clearly plays a large part in creating this effect with characters that have so many dimensions it’s difficult to pigeonhole any of them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys. Now, I’m not one who cries at sad endings or deeply moving scenes generally (although I bawl like a baby at happy endings in Disney films but we’ll come back to that another day) but I felt moved to tears by a brutally realistic scene and had a lump sitting in my throat for a long time afterwards. It's a highly personal film and Meadows tackles a lot of subjects here, including racism and identity, with success. He challenges the stereotypical image of skinheads taking them back to their routes and examines the effect that getting into the wrong crowd can have on an impressionable young boy. All in all, you won’t feel uplifted by the film (to put it mildly) but This Is England, in a very ugly way, is a beautiful film.
EXTRAS **** Apart from traditional extras of deleted scenes and interviews there are some real gems such as Thomas Turgoos' audition tape and cast rehearsals. Watching the actors improvising and building up the characters gives an insight into the unique direction and the acting techniques which are so pivotal to the film. There are two interviews with Meadows where there need only be one as he repeats everything that’s in the first in the second interview but the interview(s) do shed light on just how personal this film really is to him and add an extra dimension to the film