Film review: Well-acted 'England' rings true

Drama is based on some of filmmaker's own experiences

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

THIS IS ENGLAND — *** — Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley; not rated, probable R (profanity, violence, drugs, vulgarity, slurs, brief gore, brief sex, brief nudity)

There's a reason "This is England" rings so true. This well-acted period drama is based on some of filmmaker Shane Meadows' personal experiences when he was growing up in Margaret Thatcher-era Great Britain. That includes his time as a member of a "skinhead" gang, even though he wasn't even a teenager at that point.

Meadows' fictionalized version of these events is at least as vivid — and at times as hard to watch — as some of Ken Loach's more stark dramas. (Like Loach's work, this film could use subtitles for some of the more incomprehensible accents and dialects.)

Meadows even calls his main character Shaun Fields, a slightly altered version of his own name. As played by newcomer Thomas Turgoose, Shaun is a bullied pre-teen whose father died in the Falklands. The clearly unhappy Shaun is constantly getting into fights at school. And most recently, he's been adopted as the "mascot" for a local gang headed by Woody (Joseph Gilgun).

Woody and his fellow "mods" actually turn out to be good role models for Shaun, and even his mother (Jo Hartley) is reasonably impressed with them. But that changes when an older member, Combo (Stephen Graham), is released from prison and tries to involve his former friends in militant, racist activities.

Screenwriter/director Meadows (2004's "Dead Man's Shoes") pulls no punches. There's some disturbing stuff here, especially the ending. And the soundtrack is filled with terrific period music.

The filmmaker also gets some fine performances from his cast, with Graham and Turgoose the obvious standouts. Turgoose in particular is very relaxed and believable.

"This is England" is not rated but would probably receive an R for strong sexual language (profanity, vulgar slang terms and other suggestive talk), some strong violence (brawling, acts of vandalism and a couple of vicious beatings), drug content (marijuana use and references), crude scatological humor, slurs based on race, ethnicity and sexual preference, brief gore, some brief sexual contact and brief male nudity. Running time: 102 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com