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June 27, 2008
Thomas Turgoose as Shaun. For the Cast follow this link.
This is England (2006). Dir. Shane Meadows
This is England (2006) Shane Meadows is an excellent example of a film to which a SPECT type of analysis should be applied. SPECT (social / political / economic / cultural / textual) is my preferred way of looking at films. A film is always a product of its times although if it has any prestensions to originality whatsover its way of perceiving the world and generating meaning will be very specific. This is England is suffused with a sense of memory of a transitional moment in the lives of the working class in a northern industrial town experienced through the lives of young people, who becuase of a rapidly shifting world are open to all sorts of influences making claims upon their identity. It is for these reasons that the film has quickly won some important recognition in prize-winning circles gaining firstly a prize from BIFA and then later a BAFTA award. It is an important film for unlike the blockbusters such as The Bourne Ultimatum which are nominally British, this is a genuinely British film made by independents on a low budget. At the heart of the film are the issues of identity and loyalty whther to each other or to a greater idea however flawed that idea may be. From the point of view of analysing the film it is an important one from the perspective of representation. When studying film and national cinema representation is a fundamental thing. Who is being represented, how they are being represented and why they are being represented are the questions which need to be addressed. As can be seen in the webliography Meadows himself had been a Skinhead in his youth (see Kermode YouTube below) as well as coming from a more northerly part of England and a core strength of the film is that it always gives a sense of insider knowledge informing its perspective. How this is done is something which can be ascertained most effectively at the level of textual anlysis.
This Video with Mark Kermode interviewing Shane Meadows for the Culture Show which includes good extracts from the film discusses everything from Meadows' own links with Skinhead culture to the contradictory attitude of the BBFC in making antiracist film an 18.
The insightful review in Sight and Sound (see webliography) gets to the heart of the film and relates it to the music of the Clash and their song This is England made after the miners strike had been defeated for it was this that now made the vast majority of the country vulnerable:
September 1985, and the Clash released their first single since the sacking of founder, arranger and writer Mick Jones two years earlier. Their glory days were well behind them as they struggled to make sense of their punk ideals in a world gone cold. Out of desperation came a masterpiece, a haunting state-of-the-nation report that was all the more impressive because it replaced anger with vulnerability.
'This Is England' was mid-paced, drenched not in distorted guitar but in sighing synthesisers and clattering electro-percussion. Backgrounded by sound FX of playground taunts and football chants, Joe Strummer sang of a blasted landscape: "On the catwalk jungle/Somebody grabbed my arm/A voice spoke so cold/It masked the weapon in the palm." The Sex Pistols might have sung of 'No Feelings' but here was the reality: "This knife of Sheffield steel."
Album Cover Cut the Crap by The Clash
As stated in the introduction the issue of representation is fundamental to films like this and London to Brighton as well. Because these films are social realist (trying to represent the world 'as it really is') they challenge the sorts of representation which come out of 'feelgood films' such as Notting Hill, a london of Red Telephone Boxes and Routemaster buses where everybody is 'nicey nicey' and quaint and appeals to the American audiences with the hope of turning them into tourists. For those of you you reading this this approach to representing the UK which is presumably a factor on gaining funding in any case is now going into an online multiumedia environment. Check out the ICONS online space developed by COGAPP with apparently a 7 figure budget! check out the ICON St. George's Flag its 'terribly tasteful' in fact you can barely see the flipping thing!
The Icons version of St. George
However a more genuine iconic use of the flag is by the BNP / National Front as witnessed in This is England or else by a pack of football hooligans.
A couple of England's finest sporting the Icon of St. George
From the General to the Specific
In This is England we can see the economic factors appear both in the references to the cities of the North and the Midlands as England is begining to de-industrialise. There is a sense of 'no more future'. But politics and culture cross-cut economics as the social situation deteriorates. This is the period of Punk Rock and Also Ska music. Below Andrew Shim as Milky is in a typically Two Tone style of dress which had an especially large following in Coventry and the Midlands. young people were being influenced by bands such as The Clash with Joe Strummer, The Jam with Paul Weller, Elvis Costello and the Attractions were also popular. Most bands were politically anti-Thatcher and to the left. however there was one infamous band Skrewdriver who were a Nazi band. You can see their name graffitied on the subway in the film. As the link shows even in 2005 people were jailed for distributing Skewdriver's racist rubbish. The image of the character isn't a million miles from Combo in This is England. As well as this there was the growth of the New Romantics epitomised by groups such as Boy George, Duran Duran. In the film Smell represents this strand of British musical subculture. Sheffield at the time had its own new romantic style bands like Human League.
In case people complain that This is England is unrealistic because Milky wouldn't have been with skinheads at the start, life simply wasn't that tidy. I distincly remember having a local skinhead band playing a Troops out gig in the centre of Coventry. There were a lot of people with very confused identities at that time not least because of the crisis amongst young males because any hopes for the future in industrial jobs were disappearing fast. It was into this economic and political background that the National Front then the largest nazi organisation in the UK tried to make headway. This situation is an ever present danger as the BNP Nazi party showing in the Henley upon Thames byelection of yesterday showed. At least the Specials (the major Two-Tone band) Free Nelson Mandela song being played at Mandela's 90th birthday party concert put everything in perspective, see immediately below.
An ill Amy Winehouse gave it everything as she took the lead in the Free Nelson Mandela song in a moving rendering of the song. The image below shows her doing her own number earlier on. As Meadows points out in the Kermode interview, This Is England has relevance now as much as it it did. There are obvious parallels between the Falklands War and the war in Iraq. Looks like London was Calling Again
Just like This is England this concert carried with cultural memories, not only of the principled position of many rock bands on the question of apartheid but also harking back to earlier in the 1980s when many punk and ska bands took a stand against Thatcherite economics and rising levels of unemployment and racism. Interestingly it was in London and then Sheffield where the concept of cultural industries started to emerge as part of overall regeneration strategy. Rock music was a core activity in this revival of the economy.
The Falklands War and Representations of Nationalism
The film is set against the backdrop of the Falklands war which for many at the time became a central point of nationalism as Britian was being seriously challenged by a dictator who had invaded British sovereign territory. Whilst many opposed the war it is noticeable that in this film the young people just didn't care. for them it was something happening thousands of miles away and that made no difference to their lives whether Britain won or lost. It was only Thomas Turgoose who became upset because his father had been killed in the struggle. The nationalism of the National Front member Combo and the rest of the National Front people represented weren't concerned about the war either. If anything for them the nationalism of the war which demanded unity in the face of the enemy was a danger to their own brand of racist nationalism.
General Galtieri of Argentina who ordered the invasion. Mrs Thatcher is in the background. This is a link to a useful Guardian site on the conflict.
Only a year after the Falklands conflict was finished another battle between Thatcher and the working class took place. This was the miner's strike of 1984-85. There were a disproortionate number of miners in Yorkshire and the links between coal and steel were historical ones. Here a link to the Battle of Orgreave by Mike Figgis.
Cultural Desert to Cultural Industry
Whilst the content of the film is set in Sheffield's past there is a sense of optimism in the making of the film for when we are left in the closing moments of the film with a lonely Shaun reminiscent of the ending of Truaffaut's 400 Blows the openness of the ending cycles around to the making of the film with the help of Yorshire Screen. As Shaun in the film would now be a similar to Shane Meadows there is more than a little Truffaut in this film.
Tom Riordan, Chief Executive for Yorkshire Forward comments:
“This is a coup for Yorkshire and Humber’s film industry with a local production company, local talent featured and local settings used as the backdrop for what has been confirmed as the Best British Film in 2007. We believe this will encourage further filming in the region and congratulate those involved with making This is England for this great achievement.”
Screen Yorkshire invested in This Is England through its Production Fund, which is supported by Yorkshire Forward and aims to develop a long-term and successful production sector in the region. Screen Yorkshire is also a key partner in Warp X, the national low budget feature film slate, whose first two films Donkey Punch and A Complete History of My Sexual Failures have recently gone down a storm with critics at the Sundance film festival in Utah.
This is England is also supported by the UK Film Council New Cinema Fund, EM Media, Ingenious Media, Optimum Releasing and Filmfour. To find out more about Screen Yorkshire’s Production Fund, visit www.screenyorkshire.co.uk
Shaun at the moment of his ephiphany
Cultural Policy and Cultural Politics
Reference has already been made to the fact that the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) decided to give this film an 18 certificate. Thankfully several councils have challenged this as those who are the film's primary target audience would be excluded from it. As a result in several towns and cities the film was made a 15 Certificate. For those of you reading this who are studying British cinema this is an important aspect of film and cultural policy which needs to be remembered. A film's distributional strategies can be ruined and potentially a lot of money lost apart from anything else. whilst there is much gratuitous violence which can usefully be dispensed with there are times when it is fundamental to the meaning of a film, as it was in this case. this film is an excellent example of the problems of censorship and control in society. currently as things stand Local Councils do have the power to override the decisions of the BBFC. As the BBFC is ultimately an unelected body whereas local councils are elected the issue of who controls what is seen and for what reasons is highlighted.
Guardian feature on This is England. April 2007
Observer Interview with Meadows: I was a skinhead myself once
BBC Film Network on This is England. Live interview with Shane Meadows available here
This is England site. Lots of good stuff here!