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.

Spike Island, review

Shane Meadows, known for his exploratory directorial motives – often into the realms of British sub-cultures – released documentary The Stone Roses: Made of Stone in 2013. The feature was a look into the legendary Stone Roses gig that took place in May 1990. Similar to this, but non-fiction, director Mat Whitecross made, at the same time, Spike Island; a dramatised picture based on the same concert. An indie pic, the film features an ensemble cast, all of whom were relatively unknown at the time. Today – just two years on – we know Emilia Clarke as Game of Thrones’ Daenerys and Nico Mirallegro as My Mad Fat Diaries’ Finn. Small on budget (and even smaller on box-office takings), Spike Island is a whimsical tale of adolescent friendship, first time love, and a time in music that was pivotal within the British industry. It’s almost definitely a little hap-dash – some could even use the derogatory term flimsy – but if you too inhabit any kind of urgency to live life to the fullest (like the characters here do), Whitecross’s feature is the film for you.

the cast of spike island

the cast of spike island

The film takes place over the space of 72 hours, as a spectator you watch as a group of teenage lads attempt to attain tickets to the Spike Island ‘Stone Roses gig that took place in May 1990 in Widnes. The premise is simple, and the characters involved, including Elliott Tittensor as Tits, Jordan Murphy as Zippy, Adam Long as Little Gaz and Oliver Heald as Penfold encounter a number of diversions along their road to being gig-happy. In terms of narrative and script, its all very, very British, and perhaps a tad cliched. There isn’t much room for an American audience due to, one) the Manchester setting which means all actors involved talk in a strong accent that even people who don’t live ‘up North’ will struggle to understand, and two) the humour is based around a English wit that is hard to tap into unless you inhabit the UK. The Britishness of the feature is what makes it so strong, but this too is what limits its audience – the film took just under £100,000 at the box-office, likely due to a limited release. Though it’s an unappreciated – and barely seen – film, Spike Island isn’t a bad movie.

The group of male friends have a genuine chemistry, bouncing off of one another’s youthful energy, the atmospheric half hour at the gig is truly engaging, and director Whitecross genuinely manages to make those watching wish they could of been at that classic moment of  music history. Spike Island will, for some people, sit on the brink of greatness. These people will likely be fans of The Stone Roses and might of even been to the gig, in this way the film serves as a zeitgeist of the time. Others will cast the film to one side, seeing it as yet another Brit comedy-drama that holds so many similar themes to a number of other movies of the genre. Despite the split that Spike Island likely creates amongst its audience, it should first be seen – and then, hopefully, be loved.