This Is England – why I’m not (and will not) be watching ’90

There is no denying that director Shane Meadows created something special with his 2006 feature film This Is England. With a cast full of bright up-and-comers and an exploration into the trials and tribulations of post-Thatcher Britain, Meadows was sure to create a movie full of memorable moments. With a combination of wit and stark realism, This Is England quickly became a cult classic and received not only a positive response from cinema-goers, but critics too. Thomas Turgoose was an absolute find as well, and he shone bright with emotion and naivety and instantly became a favourite for me. He went on to star in Somers Town and Eden Lake and showed himself to be a true young talent. So, come This Is England ’86 I was more than up for another round of Woody (Joe Gilgun), Lol (Vicky McClure) and Milky (Andrew Shim).

the one-sheet for this is england

the one-sheet for this is england

The six-part series started strong, and no doubt created nostalgia for viewers from that decade. But the brutal subject matter turned off many viewers, including me. ’88 came two years later, and was just that little bit more engaging, but still as miserable as ever. Although the cast are an impressive ensemble, that in itself wasn’t enough to sway me to jump to Channel 4 for the premiere episode of ’90. Following the first installment Facebook and Twitter were gleaming with positive words from home-viewers and I felt inclined to give it a watch on 40D. Then came the second episode, and the revelation that the creators behind the show have featured more hard-hitting brutality. Again, towards women. And this had led me to ask, once again, is it necessary?

Meadows’ feature was a film of two halves. The first, a somewhat up-beat montage of 1980’s Britain and the sub-culture that came with it. The second, a dark look at the underbelly of the Skinhead lifestyle and the racism that sat somewhere among it. Stephen Graham as Combo was a terrifying enigma of a man who encompassed, what appeared to be, the anger of a nation. Many believed the preaching dialogue of the character to be a little over the top. Others were impressed with the intelligence of the script and the bravery of Meadows as a director to challenge his audience with the shocking – and hard to watch – final scene that he delivered. I sat with the latter half, and have gone back to the film many times, never to be let down or disappointed by just how strong the feature is nearly ten years later.

You are probably asking, what’s the difference between the brutality of racist violence in the film, to the sexual abuse themes and rape scene in the series? Well, there’s a big difference. This Is England carried with it so many ideological messages, from the sides of the characters we, as an audience, grew to love, and those that we grew to hate. I, and collectively as an audience, us, took something away following the first viewing of the film and I still remember the effect it had on people I know. When I asked a friend recently about her views on the new series (when I was trying to figure out just how far Meadows had gone this time), she replied, ‘Well, I can’t tell you what happened, apart from I felt miserable afterwards.’. And that, simply, reflects my problem with what this legacy has turned into: misery.

A lot of people will disagree with me, and that’s the brilliance of film and television. It’s emotive, effective, and people respond in completely different ways. But some things are best left alone, and now I seem to remember the weaknesses of the social-realist franchise, rather than the strengths of the independent movie that first moved audiences everywhere.

Channel 4’s Cucumber

Russel T Davies. For a man that most associate with family-friendly BBC sci-fi Doctor Who, his newest work on Channel 4’s no-bars-held approach to lesbian and gay relationships – Cucumber – reminds us all that Davies gained recognition with his cult hit Queer as Folk. Transcending contemporary gay culture in British society, Davies is back on our radars as Cucumber, now on its fifth episode, continues to impress. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, and perhaps not one to watch with the family (Mum: “Well, this is a bit awkward isn’t it?”), but beyond the crude nature of the dialogue and sexual content that is enough to send your Granny to bed at nine o’clock instead of ten, Davies’ newest drama is triumphant in finally bringing relationships ‘without labels’ to the mainstream viewing audience. Kudos to Channel 4 for yet again breaking down the barriers of conventional week-night television.

Cucumber is part of three series’, all interconnected and all focusing on some aspect of being gay. While Channel 4’s Cucumber is episodic, E4’s Banana is an anthology series, with a variety of characters telling their intimate stories. Tofu finishes the trio, with all episodes made available on 4oD. The former is definitely the wittiest of the three, and carefully molds a number of stories together without bordering on confusing. At the heart of the series is Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri as Henry and Lance, having been together for ten years but never consummating their relationship the pair become disconnected and each venture off in different directions – or, simply put, both in search of another person who can fill the gap in their broken partnership. Supporting these two are a host of young talents, the stand-out being Freddie (played by Freddie Fox), a promiscuous artist who Fox plays with a stellar humour and a refreshing cut-throat energy.

With only three more episodes to go, audiences should be rejoicing that at least one terrestrial channel can stand up and tackle ‘taboo’ subject matter. Russell T. Davies, thank you for breaking the boundaries of the norm and giving us an intelligent, original and hella’ funny television series that is unabashedly, and unapologetically, in your face.

British television at it’s best – E4 brings us Glue

Yesterday evening saw the arrival of E4‘s newest offering, Glue; an eight-part teen-drama series set in a small rural town, known as Overton. Broadchurch meets Skins was the word on the street, and while those whispers were certainly right in some ways, Glue, in one episode, managed to present itself as a whole different kettle of fish. Starring a plethora of up-and-comers, including one half of Rizzle Kicks’ Jordan Stephens, there were plenty of teen cliches and mayhem ahoy, but in a gritty, real way. The initial strength of episode one lay with the surprisingly good acting ability of these apparent new-comers. By the final moments though, the mystery of the plot and dark nature of several of the characters left viewers with a sweet anticipation for next week’s offering.

What do we know so far? A thew things; the drama will be focused on a group of eight young adults (Annie, Ruth,Tina, Dom, Eli, James, Janine and Rob), while they come to terms with the murder of one of their own (a younger boy named Cal, brother of Eli, a Romany), drugs, petty-crime and underage boozing are the norm, and betrayal and adultery are a plenty. The most interesting element so far is the large number of Romany inhabitants in the village, something which was an  unexpected element of the drama. Were these people involved in the killing? What brings them to this town? And, will there be a divide between them and the police as the investigation gets going? These are just several pressing questions brought up during the much-too short 50 minute episode (eager beaver, right?).

With the beginning of Glue Channel 4 have yet again highlighted themselves as leaders (perhaps even, pioneers) in Brit drama. When you look at the unique subject matter of shows like Top Boy,  and strength of writing in dramas like Utopia and Shameless, there is little competition elsewhere. Dramas like these are the rare percentage of TV that America cannot compete with – grit and somewhat uncomfortable issues are brought to the forefront of viewers minds, and this kind of genre of television cant quite seem to be replicated in the same way by the yanks.

Not for the fainthearted (featuring full-frontal nudity, animal killing and many more shocks) if Glue can continue to bring the same level of mystery, the sense of teen urgency to experience everything all at once, and the intriguing setting of life on a farm, it will be up there with the best.