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5.0 out of 5 stars Shane Meadows Very Best Film To Date, 22 April 2010
This review is from: This Is England [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
This Is England is most definitely one of the very best British films of the twenty-first century and ranking as Shane Meadows most outstanding to date. Meadows draws on his own personal experiences as a skin head during the early 1980's. This Is England is set during the summer months of 1983 at the time of "Thatcher's Britain" and indeed the era of the skinheads, punk, racism and facism.

Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is a lonely 11 year old kid growing up on a rough council estate in the North Of England. He is grieving the sudden loss of his father after he was killed in the horrific Falklands War. Encountering incessant bullying at school, Shaun meets a gang of friendly, multi-racial, dope-smoking skin heads, headed by Woody (Joseph Gilgunn) who immediately are drawn to his sadness and confusion and subsequently take the boy under their wing. However when one of the gang's old members Combo, (Stephen Graham) a vicious, racist thug and bully, is released from prison, Shaun is manipulated by Combo's way of thinking and racist attitude and turns into a thug himself, convinced he would be making his late Dad proud. After Combo brutally beats up Shaun's friend Milky (Andrew Shim) and exposes his own deep vulnreability and unbalanced mental state, Shaun comes back down to earth (and his senses), realising the lifestyle he'd been leading was not really for him, nor would it have made his Dad proud.

Though the first half of This Is England is touchingly funny, drawing on the allure and fun of being in a gang, the second half soon makes way for a much darker, raw and gritty nature, with many violent episodes and highlighting the brutally stark racism that existed at the time (and still does unfortunately!). Shane Meadows shrewdly evokes the total working-class despair of "Thatcher's Britain", capturing the era impeccably well and impressively authentic in detail.

Like every other of Shane Meadows absolutely superb films, the acting and dialogue is astutely naturalistic, drawing you in from the opening scene. Most outstanding of all is the immensely talented youngster Thomas Turgoose who's almost stark performance never once shrinks from being anything but utterly powerful and beleavable. Indeed the cast are all thoroughly excellent that includes another notably powerful turn from the ever-brilliant Stephen Graham as Combo; Joseph Gilgunn as the loveable, kindly rogue Woody who is the leader of the gang that Shaun first joins and who also refuses to be brainwashed by Combo's unhinged way of thinking and racial hatred; Jo Hartley as Shaun's mum Cynth who upon meeting the gang headed by Woody becomes charmed by them herself it seems, after having had serious reservations when first seeing her young son with a shaved head; Andrew Shim as the friendly Milky; Vicky McClure as the more sensible, level-headed Lol and Rosamund Hanson as the eccentric but likeable Smell.

Extra features on this DVD edition is endearing audio commentary to the film by writer and director Shane Meadows, producer Mark Herbert and the greatly talented young lead actor Thomas Turgoose.

Truly an out and out masterpiece, This Is England is an often funny, often shocking and often deeply moving portrait of a moment in British cultural history.

Ian Phillips
April 2010
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