It is near impossible to decide which is Meadows’ best film, though everyone has to have a favourite, and for this blogger, it has to be This Is England. What started off as a little film set in the early ’80’s has now expanded with two further TV series, following the lives of Lol, Woody, Shaun, Milky and the rest of the crew. The expansion of the film perhaps allows Meadows to develop much loved characters; for the audience however, it is a chance to delve further into the lives of those characters whose back story was just too great to be shown in one film.
The film centres mainly around the character of Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), a young boy whose quest for friendship an acceptance leads him to a group of skinheads, headed by Woody (Joe Gilgun). The group follow he fashion rather than the politics, and all goes smoothly until,fresh out of prison, Combo (Stephen Graham), a former friend of the gang returns with more than a chip on his shoulder.
As ever with Meadows, the outstanding casting is clear within the first 30 seconds. In swaggers Thomas Turgoose as Shaun, with a shit load of attitude despite the fact that his voice hasn’t even broken. His obvious naivety paired with his genuinely good heart and fearless cheek makes for an incredible lead. Yet it his naivety that brings home the true tragedy in the film. Shaun can pack a punch if he feels hurt but neglects to question people’s motives when he feels unsure, and the desperation as a viewer to protect him for inevitable harm is the crux of the film. Perhaps Meadows greatest talent is the ability to write the most complex of characters. Nearly all of his films show characters battling with a personal or moral conflict, yet somehow the viewer manages to avoid judgement. Combo, for example, is a brutish pitbull who could effortlessly tear your throat with his teeth, yet in some scenes the viewer almost feels pity for him- not in a preachy way, but in the genuine way that one human understands another.
Whilst it’s tempting (and entirely possible) to do a character analogy for all of the cast, one other point that must be made about the film is that Meadows manages to avoid any type of irritating political soap-boxing, which, in a film about racism, set in the Midlands in the ’80’s, is no easy task. For every criticism of Thatcher, there is a counter-extremist view, there are no lessons learned and nobody really wins.
This Is England was the film that really allowed Meadows to stand out as a Great British film director, and introduced us to some of the finest British acting talent of the modern day.