This is England
Bold & Powerful Snapshot That Avoids Easy Answers
A grim, well-acted and illuminating look at the psyche of working-class England during the 1980s, when a national identity crisis opened the door to a rise of violence from the Neo-Nazi skinhead movement. Writer-director Shane Meadows, allegedly drawing on his own experiences with the skinhead lifestyle, portrays the individuals who live both at its fringes and in its depths as multi-dimensional individuals filled with frustration, hate and -- disarmingly, to an audience expecting to hate them -- hope. Although the audience logically questions the fascist vision of England that these people may hope to create, Meadows (and the uniformly talented cast) creates a nuanced group of characters who engender both our sympathies and our own worst expectations, making them impossible to write off as "villains."
Meadows relies heavily on a recurring stable of little-known actors in his films, as fans of his earlier "A Room for Romeo Brass" will notice here. Although they do a fabulous job of creating realistic characters, Stephen Graham (like Paddy Considine in "Room") nearly steals the show as the complex yet devastating Combo, the rare character who walks a fine line between pitiable, hateful and justified. The questions Graham and Meadows raise about our societal problems aren't easily answered, and the fact that we nearly feel implicated in the film's extremely uncomfortable moments (and violent outbursts) combine to create a film that will linger in the viewer's mind long after it comes to an end.