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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
8/10 - 8/16/2007
Reviewed by Diane Carson
In This Is England, writer/director Shane Meadows brings July 1983 to vivid life through the character of 12-year-old Shaun. More remarkable, Meadows avoids the clichés of the alienated youth genre while never sacrificing the particulars of the early Thatcher years, just after the conclusion of the Falklands War. Having taught in Manchester, England on a year-long Fulbright exchange at about this time, I felt a strong sense of dejá vu, so perfectly does This Is England express the explosive mood, the barely suppressed anger, and the distasteful emotions of National Front xenophobia.

And yet, by burrowing into the characters, Meadows refuses the easy path of sensationalizing actions. They're never justified, but Meadows understands the situation and personalities--he was a skinhead himself in the 80s in a place very like this unexciting northwestern coastal town. The authenticity is palpable and noteworthy.

As the film begins, Shaun bristles at the teasing he takes from older classmates. He's a hair trigger, set off by what we immediately understand as unrelenting taunting. When a skinhead befriends Shaun and makes him one of the older (teenage) gang, Shaun signs on. Nicely, his mother is no shrew but a supportive, loving person who realizes she can't give Shaun what he lacks-male role models. Her husband/Shaun's father died in the Falklands War; she and Shaun articulate how much he's missed. And Shaun identifies with his new friends who run riot in a couple scenes. It gets much more distressing when a racist returns from jail. I had students who behaved and dressed in very similar ways in working class Manchester. So it's refreshing to see heart-breaking situations not sugar coated, not simplified while it's painful to watch the dysfunctional behavior by frustrated, disenfranchised youngsters. And all don't succumb to hateful behavior though important conflicts and terrifying confrontations ensue. These are individuals who think and choose.

The performances by all are electrifying and convincing. The music that so momentously defined the time and tone saturates the soundtrack, commenting appropriately in many scenes. This Is England is engaging, informative, and illuminating of a subculture too often dismissed and demonized. At Landmark's Tivoli Theatre through August 16th.

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