This is England

tie.jpg — an immensely touching masterpiece of a movie by British director Shane Meadows. Based in part on events from his own youth, Meadows presents us with 12-year-old Shaun who is growing up without his father, doesn’t fit in with the common, popular crowd, and yearns for friendship and acceptance. Woody and his motley gang of punky, goth skinheads take Shaun under their wings — they’re a few years older but treat Shaun with kindness. He lets his hair be shaved off, but that’s about as far as all of them go in terms of ideology; they’re neither nationalistic nor racist. Shaun has the best summer of his life. However, things change from fun to dead-serious when a former gang-member, Combo, returns from a few years in prison and introduces to the group the violence and mindless rhetoric that one usually associates with skinheads. While the gang splits and some stay with Woody, Shaun follows Combo who becomes a father-figure.

Will Shaun become a cruel, militaristic, volatile man like Combo, filled with hate? Probably not, given that the plot is based on the director’s memories. While Meadows doesn’t offer any pat answers as to why some people lash out with destructive rage and others learn to look at their inner pain and turn it into something like this film, he clearly shows the slippery slope of projecting this pain. The us/them mentality, where “us” equals good and “them” equals the enemy, finds the culmination of its absurdity in wars. Aptly, the Falklands War is set as a backdrop to the unfolding story on the screen.

If there’s one thing even more remarkable than the excellent cast, beautiful cinematography, fantastic music, and outstanding directing, it is the performance of 13-year-old Thomas Turgoose as Shaun. Although he had no training as an actor, he moves from innocent and vulnerable to silly and exuberant to dark and creepy with such flawless ease that it is simply astonishing (A ridiculous aside: because of the film’s rating in England, Turgoose isn’t allowed to watch his own movie).

Here’s a clip where Shaun first meets Woody and his gang.

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