Living with the shadow of This is England

6 Oct


So last night I watched the final episode of This is England ’90, and indeed the final episode of any version of the This is England series.  I don’t intend to write a review blog.  To be honest far more capable people will have already done that and I wouldn’t really do the piece justice.  (this review in Esquire is certainly worth a look).  However, I wanted to write some things about it while it is fresh in my memory as I am not sure there has ever been a film or TV series (or both in this instance) that has ever affected me in the way This is England has.

I probably watched the This is England film for the first time when it aired on TV not long after it came out.  About eight or nine years ago.  As much as a hit it may be to my masculine image, if I could ever pretend to have one, I am not ashamed to admit it is not an uncommon sight to find me crying in the cinema or at home.  I am someone who easily becomes invested in the things I watch and read.  That said I move on quickly.  I don’t re-watch the same films (save the constant loop of Disney movies the Gryffalo has me sitting in front of at home), nor do I re-read the same books.  I take from them in the moment and then that is that.  This is England was different.

I can’t say I have watched the film more than a few times, I would find it too difficult to do so, but its themes and imagery replay in my mind, and have done for many years since I first watched it.  The graphic, but not sensational, violence of the closing scenes are something I don’t think I will ever get over.  Few films have lived with me the way This is England did.  From time to time I would recall not only the themes but the emotions it stirred in me.  My anger, disgust, helplessness and fear.

When This is England ’86 was announced I was intrigued but didn’t hold up much hope.  I assumed the uniqueness of the film could not be replicated, especially for TV, and there was a risk of undermining the cliffhanger of an ending we had been left with.  What I didn’t expect was that the TV series, from ’86 to ’88 and finally ’90 would not only build on the impact of the original movie but develop it in such a powerful way.  That there has not been a drop off in quality over a sustained period is a remarkable feat.  What is more, my own maturing during the years perhaps gave me a deeper understanding of what I was witnessing.

One thing I have noticed over the years is that my own relationship with this work has changed as I have changed.  Thinking about that gruesome scene in the film it isn’t, as it used to be, the utter senselessness of the attack that lives with me but the image of a distressed Shaun watching on that breaks my heart.  While they are nothing alike I see my own son sitting there.  I think it is the innocence that is at Shaun’s core that I identify.  Seeing that echoed in the flashbacks of the final episode made me feel incredibly protective of Gryff (and to an extent Llew although the fact he is a baby almost disassociate him to a point).  I had trouble sleeping last night with those thoughts in my mind.

What This is England has offered up is brutal authenticity of performance, visuals and scripts.  There is a depressing realism to everything with scenes across every version of the franchise that have horrified me in differing ways.  There has been some breathtaking acting, the likes of which I don’t believe I’ll see again from a British drama, from a cast who have not only portrayed each role brilliantly but crucially in a measured approach. There have been career defining performances from individuals who have had, and will have, outstanding careers.

I could cry thinking about the ‘what ifs’ of so many characters let alone the ‘what dids.’  The fact that I despised Combo with a hatred I have never previously, or since, found for a fictional character when watching the film, yet was left heartbroken with his apparent death by the end of This is England ’90, is a testament to Shane Meadows themes of redemption and Stephen Graham’s sensational portrayal. That said it is unfair to pick out just one character as those playing roles across the cast have left me in a state of constant reflection.

As I said at the start of this blog the film still lives with me today after all these years. I imagine, and perhaps fear, the TV series will continue to haunt me for many a year to come. To the cast and crew, thank you for exposing me to such emotionally gut wrenching moments. I’ll miss those characters thou I doubt my fragile sensitivities could have endured another series.


2 Responses to “Living with the shadow of This is England”

  1. raskolnikovva October 29, 2015 at 7:34 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and remarks concerning Meadows’ work. It was like reading some of my thoughts as well. I don’t know if I could point out other film that had that huge impact on me. I did cry, I did laugh, I was moved, I was schocked. And I am truly grateful for all of this. Thanks again for your review – it was a pleasure to read it!

    • hath53 October 30, 2015 at 10:52 am #

      Thanks very kind of you to say. It has been a remarkable piece of film/tv. I still think of it now and again.

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