This Is England ’88
This Is England ‘88 confirms Shane Meadows’ hybrid This Is England franchise as one of Britain’s top film and television offerings, sitting comfortably alongside such excellent recent works as Gatiss & Moffat’s hugely popular modern reinterpretation of the Sherlock Holmes adventures and Charlie Brooker’s lesser known but highly inventive dystopian mind trip Black Mirror. Whereas these latter shows cover the procedural-thriller and sci-fi psycho-thriller genres respectively, working class Brit auteur Meadows brings to bear his considerable talent and experience to deliver sharply observed social realism with a mystical edge and a near perfect balance of darkness and humour.
Like the original feature and ‘86 television instalment, This Is England ‘88 showcases great writing, direction, and strong performances. Shane Meadows enters the third outing in his world with his cast, if not the central group of friends, intact. I think the franchise (for want of a better term) is so successful because Meadows still has plenty to say: unlike many a renewed TV show or movie sequel he’s not content to trot out the usual suspects giving us more of the same. Instead he explores relationship and personal development in a very keen eyed manner with a bunch of people and storylines that all ring true. Meadows’s motley crew may not exactly mirror our social circles but we’ve all, at least to some degree, been to similar places.
With fast approaching Christmas 1988 as the film’s highly visible backdrop the miniseries opens pre-credits to the key storyline characters waking up on a typical day illustrating their current lot. Shaun and Smell are living at his mum’s but things are taking a rocky turn; Lol is now a single mum who catches the gang when she can, which is not often enough, walking a knife-edge of overwhelming depression as best she can; Milky is returned from world roaming to visit his and Lol’s daughter Lisa and to Christmas with his friends; meanwhile Woody has quit his sphere and is attempting to live the responsible working man’s life, almost convincing his family and new girlfriend if not himself. It’s easy to forget how fast time can work to divide as well as to join.
There is not a weak showing to be had from the cast regardless of the size and nature of their role, for example the mildly OTT but very believable role of Fay’s drama enthusiast dad played with relish by Alex Macqueen. Even the show/social group’s regular comic relief in the form of Andrew Ellis’s ‘Gadget’ doesn’t miss a beat. But where ‘86 was driven to heights by the powerhouse (and BAFTA winning) performance from Vicky McClure as ‘Lol’ this outing’s standout is Joe Gilgun with an uncomfortably raw and yet subtle performance of a young man conflicted to the point of splintering. Woody, feeling forced to abandon his friends essentially ends up abandoning who he is but, though he tries with all he has, cannot internalise the facade he’s built. This is a feat of writing, direction, and talented performance that deserves special mention even if Gilgun missed out on the 2012 Best Actor BAFTA to Dominic West in >Appropriate Adult.
Meadows meshes the grey grimness of the unglamorous English winter with a dual edged (both tonal and narrative) mystical facet. Mental illness is given substance in a visual POV thread that lends tone of psychological terror to proceedings whereas the faith and togetherness of both the season (Christmas) and of humanity is embodied in an Irish community nurse whose calm patience and compassion in the face of a hurting abusive patient symbolically wraps around the complex, ultimately loving, relational web of family and friends. The filmmakers manage to tell a very human story of struggle, loss, love, and the ties that bind without being ensnared by easy sentimentality or crude stereotyping. It is this love for its characters and setting – very evident in the actual relational chemistry existing between this group of friends – that elevates This Is England above the clamour of other viewing on offer.
This Is England ‘88 essentially plays out the consequences of the previous instalments and so those who are franchise followers will get the most from watching. I’m of the mind, however, that a cold viewing wouldn’t go astray and would likely lead to investigation of the earlier feature/series if the broad genre holds even the slightest of interest.
This single disc DVD release includes a relatively limited bunch of standard type extras including some reasonable, if fairly brief, cast & crew interviews and also the usual selection of deleted scenes – though there are a couple of pretty good, decent length ones amongst the usual minor clippings. The audio commentary of series finale with Vicky (Lol) and Joe (Woody) is fairly casual and true to character but also produces some interesting personal anecdotes about the actors actual personal history and regarding Shane’s working style and method with actors to help them achieve the desired performance. Sound and picture quality are decent, with suitably bled colours and a soundtrack that makes for a well constructed mix-tape. The This Is England ‘88 DVD from Madman is a worthwhile addition to the franchise collection even if it is a little sad to be missing out on a double disc edition this time around.
Episode audio commentary with Vicky McClure and Joe Gilgun
1 Disc Edition
Region 4 PAL
16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0
Subtitles: English captions for the hearing impaired
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: 16 – Drug use, sex scenes, offensive language & content that may disturb.
Duration: 144 mins
Genre: Drama / English social realism
Director: Shane Meadows (2011)
Actors: Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun, Andrew Shim, Charlotte Tyree, Stacey Sampson, Andrew Ellis, Michael Socha, Chanel Cresswell, Jo Hartley, Rosamund Hanson, George Newton, Thomas Turgoose, and Stephen Graham.