Friday, September 11, 2009

Best British Films: 17. This Is England

Another one from Shane Meadows on the list of 25 Best British Films of the past 25 years. This Is England is a semiautobiographical tale, centering on Shaun, an 11-year-old boy in 1983 England, whose father has recently died in the Falklands War. Shaun is desperate to belong, and so when a gang of skinheads invites him into their ranks, he anxiously accepts, but soon sees the dark side of his new friends and their beliefs.

Shaun (played by Thomas Turgoose, in one of the greatest child performances I've seen) is constantly bullied in school, one day he takes a shortcut home and meets a gang of skinheads who soon become his surrogate family. The group is tame and not racist at this stage, but soon Combo, another member of the gang, is released from prison. He teaches them the ideas he picked up from the inside: violence, looting, and racism. The gang subsequently splits in two, and Shaun makes the mistake of following Combo.

This Is England chronicles a dark period in Britain's recent history. Skinheads are soon synonymous with neo-Nazis, becoming violent and harboring prejudice towards nonwhites and immigrants. Shaun's anger and pain make him susceptible to Combo's hateful agenda, but he's soon in over his head.

The film is a smart and insightful look at a period Meadows obviously knows well. The opening montage is expertly crafted, and the film is haunting and relentless. Another strong selection by The Observer. ****/4


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