We almost feel embarrassed to start the review this way, but This is England is far and away the best film we’ve seen this festival about the Iraq war. It’s probably embarrassing because there is simply so much more to the film than that. Also… It’s set in 1983.
Based on the true story of one summer in director Shane Meadow’s young life, it centres on Shaun, a lonely lad in middle England whose lost his dad in the Falklands War. With no one to really turn to, a chance meeting with a group of skinheads turns into a wonderful friendship that is suddenly, and awfully, twisted by the return of Combo, a prior member of the group and now a National Front member.
Reading a synopsis like that you might hit key words ‘skinheads’, ‘National Front’ and think it’s the usual fetishistic look at young Nazis, but this is something much more powerful. The original skinheads were closely tied with black culture, specifically reggae music, and this works as a lament for the ways in which Thatcherite Britain turned some members of a once positive group into something disgusting; the way war and fear can make animals of us all. At the same time this is a moving look at the search for something to belong to, our reach for love and acceptance, and an examination of the consequences that may follow.
There is so much to this film that is genuinely brilliant – from the euphoric first stages of Shaun’s new friendship; the perfect recreation of early 1980’s Great Britain; the astounding soundtrack and the often warm and humorous, utterly alive way in which the story is told. This is a film that should touch everyone that watches it, and it’s our tip for people’s choice. We can’t think of a more deserving film. 5/5