This Is England, a semi-autobiographical tale from writer/director Shaun Meadows, takes us back to 1983, at the height of the Falklands War where high unemployment fosters a resentment for immigrants in the UK. The movie looks at how a boy turns from a lonely outsider to a member of a racist gang. Despite a somewhat rushed ending, the movie does an excellent job of showing how easily hatred can be fostered in the young and impressionable. It also shows the transformation of English skinheads from a reggae-loving nationalistic group to the military arm of neo-Nazi groups.
Shaun, played by newcomer Thomas Turgoose, is a 12 year old boy in Yorkshire whose father was killed in the Falklands. He has no friends and is bullied at school, making him extremely impressionable. On the way home from his last day at school he encounters a group of older skinheads, led by the affable Woody, played by Joseph Gilgun. Sympathetic to Shaun’s troubles, Woody and the gang adopts the boy into their group. The young boy starts feeling like he belongs to something and couldn’t be happier. The skinheads get a little rough at times, but they’re good natured and don’t harm other people. Their world is about to change with the arrival of Combo, played by Stephen Graham, a hard-core racist and member of the National Front who was recently release from prison. Combo splits the group in two and takes his group into a different direction, with the intent of turning it to darker deeds. Shaun is taken under Combo’s wing and starts heading in the wrong direction, spouting hate and taking to violence.
Shaun gets so weaved into the violence that it takes a tragedy for him to realize that his path is the wrong one. He eventually decides that he can’t take it anymore and he starts retreating back into his former self. Unfortunately that’s all we get to see. We don’t know if he joins back with Woody and the others or if he retreats fully into solitude again.
Overall I was pretty impressed with the film. Excellent acting coupled with a good story made for a good time. Unfortunately the one thing that bothered me most was the ending. I don’t care for the way we never see certain characters again. It’s as if they dropped off the face of the earth. Other than that there are no other real complaints. One thing that really stood out to me was the soundtrack, which was absolutely amazing. An excellent pick of music that really backed up the film. This is definitely a movie you should check out.