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.

Actor Profile: Jack O’Connell

With Angelina Jolie as his chaperone, Jack O’Connell is finding his feet in Hollywood. War epic Unbroken is due to be released on Boxing Day and until now the actor has been known for his portrayal of troubled (and troublesome) young men. With initial reports being positive on O’Connell and his up-and-coming role (which will no doubt propel him into super-stardom), a look into the actors previous works seems appropriate.

Many found themselves intrigued by O’Connell during his turn in E4’s Skins; a television series which upped the bar for drama which focuses on young adults. O’Connell is remembered for his role as Cook, a violent teen with a history of rebellion, and a criminal wrap sheet that doesn’t read well. Before this captivating turn came two films which cemented him as an actor unafraid to tackle the big subjects; first is the now classic Brit drama This Is England. Directed by Shane Meadows and featuring O’Connell in only a small role the film explored racism, Thatcherism and the lifestyle that ultimately comes with being a Skinhead. Two years later the young actor can be seen as the lead antagonist in gory indie horror Eden Lake; disgustingly chavvy and repulsively evil, O’Connell plays Brett with a stellar force (this is probably the only role the actor portrays that you find yourself loathing).

Jack O'Connell

Jack O’Connell

After his turn in various supporting roles O’Connell found himself as the lead in 90’s set rave drama Weekender. As Dylan, he stands out as a comedic force with the ability to switch characteristics comfortably and realistically whenever necessary. With five more British titles under his belt between 2011 and 2013 (including Tower Block), last year saw the actor take on a role which would lead to his discovery in Hollywood. Starred Up, directed by David Mackenzie (and co-starring Ben Mendelsohn and Rupert Friend) follows O’Connell as Eric Love, a young man with a pension for violence and a lack of morality which finds him in adult prison at nineteen. This turn, which O’Connell (in an interview with Film4) described, in ways, as a method approach, cemented him as a powerful force – brutal, aesthetically grim and unabashedly real, Starred Up gave O’Connell the power to fully present himself as the adult actor he has become.

This year has been a stellar year performance wise, with a range of diverse roles – from support in 300: Rise of an Empire to the lead in historical action drama ’71. Next comes the eagerly awaited, and much anticipated, Unbroken. As Louis Zamperini O’Connell finds himself in his biggest role to date; portraying the life of a celebrated athlete and war hero. The actor has already won four awards for his role in the film (two of which were joint for Starred Up) and slowly but surely Jack O’Connell is becoming a known force within Hollywood.

Never afraid to portray men who are often treading the thin line between love and hate, and often seen in roles which challenge those watching (aesthetically and emotionally), beyond the perhaps ‘tough guy’ characters he has become so known for, he manages to portray a heart (however hard it is to find that) and O’Connell is a British actor about to take the rest of the world by storm.