Combustible Celluloid
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With: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun, Rosamund Hanson, Andrew Ellis, Perry Benson, George Newton, Frank Harper, Pukey Nicholls, Kris Dosanjh
Written by: Shane Meadows
Directed by: Shane Meadows
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/12/2006

This Is England (2007)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Soft Skinheads

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Set during the early 1980s, this soft coming-of-age drama about skinheads doesn't seem the slightest bit like life, even though writer/director Shane Meadows reportedly based it on his own. Twelve year-old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) lives alone with his mum, after his father has died in the Falklands. They can't afford any modern, 1980s clothes, so he shows up to school wearing bell-bottoms and a silly sweater, and is predictably teased. On his way home from school, he falls in with a bunch of skinheads who decide to take him under their wings and protect him. One day a dangerous-looking skinhead, Combo (Stephen Graham, best known as "Tommy" in Snatch), turns up, lending the first real menace to the picture. He's recruiting young skinheads for his pet cause, which is apparently to intimidate any Pakistanis who happen to be nearby (they storm into a playground and steal a basketball from a couple of Pakistani teens). Combo also begins to treat Shaun like a son, at least up until the baffling ending. It's difficult to tell what Meadows wants to say here; the film's politics are hamstrung by the characters' behavior, and a full-blown adult relationship between Shaun and a much older female skinhead (Rosamund Hanson) briefly disturbs and then goes nowhere. Meadows shoots on grungy 16mm, which helps effectively re-create the period, but I couldn't get around the "coming of age" movie conventions. I was always one step ahead of the characters and never felt any emotional honesty. Perhaps Meadows was too close to the material -- or not close enough.

DVD Details: I've received lots of e-mail about this one. Most people apparently like it much more than I did. I guess the period re-creation was enough. IFC Films released the Region 1 DVD late in 2007, complete with deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, an interview with Shane Meadows, a commentary track with Meadows, actor Turgoose and producer Mark Herbert, and trailers. The disc also includes two text essays (you have to read your TV screen), one on skinhead culture and one on the Falklands war.

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