Over the past few years, the television series epidemic has really gone full throttle and left cinema sitting on the sidelines, shaking a box of sweet ‘n’ salty popcorn in the hopes of luring viewers away from the merciless grasp of Netflix. However, you’re reading the musings here of somebody who is 24 going on 64 and still gets a thrill from bagging a bargain DVD to add to the collection and shies away from anything ‘too CGI’ or otherworldly. I guess when all’s said and done, I just prefer the compact intensity of a 90-minute feature film and there are only a select few who can have me running back to the TV at the same time every week but Shane Meadows is definitely one of them.
This Is England ’90
Following on from This Is England ’86 (2010) and This Is England ’88 (2011), This Is England ’90 comes at just the right time. The entire British population appears to be going mad for a 90’s revival at the moment and I can’t seem to move for bubblegum pink crop tops and smiley-print bucket hats but what I’ve loved so much about this series is how it depicts the era in all it’s pill-poppin’, government-slammin’, socially corrupt glory. As Jo Hartley (who plays Shaun’s mum, Cynthia) said in an interview with The Metropolist I read recently, it’s not “all smiley faces, whistles and that”, it’s a raw and authentic portrayal of an era that, behind the intoxicated raves and iconic music scene, was using substance-fueled escapism as a means to transcend crippling class inequality and social injustice.
Another snippet from Hartley’s interview that stuck with me was when she said: “Shane always finds love, and although the series can be very dark it’s all based on how much the characters really love each other. It’s just people living their lives and being who they are, and it’s all based around how they strive to be better and take care of one another.” In this heartfelt quote she hits the nail right on the head. Despite being pretty disturbing in its own stylised way, This Is England is and always has been about celebrating relationships whether through blood, friendship or romance.
This addictive charm instantly resurfaced in Episode 1 (Spring) which was essentially a reintroduction to the characters and an update on what they’re up to now we’re in the 90’s ‘Madchester’ era. Not a great deal happened in this episode to be honest and I was a little disappointed in the lackluster narrative but I still enjoyed Meadows’ honest film-making and the use of abstract slow motion editing in contrast to his signature gritty hyper-realism. I was also pleased to see Einaudi had made his way onto the score – I always love how Meadows uses his haunting classical style to manipulate his visuals.
We learn that the group are still as tight knit as ever, Smell has moved on from Shaun to an Adam Ant lookalike, while Lol and Woody have become somewhat domesticated and set themselves apart from the rave scene which features so heavily throughout the series. The change into double denim and bucket hats from their usual Fred Perry polos and Doc Marten boots represents a shift in ideology among the group away from their neo-Nazi roots. However, you will notice Lol is still sporting the iconic garb in the pictured scene, which is perhaps a foreshadowing of later events when it becomes painfully evident how consumed by her past she has become.
In Episode 2 (Summer) the plot took a turn for the worse for a number of the characters, which means it started to get all the more gripping for me as a viewer and my faith in the series had been restored. In a nut shell, this installment mainly revolved around a central storyline that saw (nearly)everyone apart from Lol & Woody head off in search of a n acclaimed rave but get lost on the way and end up on a hippy campsite where they enjoy a night of reckless abandon under the rose-tinted supervision of a big baggy full of uppers. The star of this episode and in my opinion, the whole series was Chanel Cresswell who plays Lol’s sister, Kelly (pictured, right). Ditching her hot-pink Chelsea cut in favour of a new grungy, dirty blonde ‘do, Kelly’s character had always sort of sat on the sidelines looking pretty, but complete with psychological baggage aplenty and a drug habit to boot, Cresswell truly brought Kelly into her own this time round with the help of some stunning slow motion editing and incredible audio tricks.
Episode 3 (Autumn) proved to be the climatic point of the entire series and I don’t think I’m just speaking for myself when I say that, especially if the social media reaction following its airing was anything to go by. It took only a matter of minutes for this installment to be immortalised by ‘the dinner table scene’ (pictured, below) which displayed a calibre of acting and direction that can only be described as simply unforgettable. Whether you’re interested in acting, directing or just wondering what all the fuss is about, I implore you to seek out this scene and see for yourself because the impact both the cast and producers had on their audience here is hard to put into words. Vicky McClure (Lol) tweeted: “7 cameras, 2 takes. Unlike anything I’ve ever filmed or will ever film again” and it’s easy to see why. This sequence was also a turning point for Milky who transforms from the endearing victim of racial abuse that we have come to know and love to protective father on the hunt for revenge, which was a theme that continued right into the series’ closing shot.
This episode was particularly outstanding when it came to the editing too. Meadows and his team aren’t scared to manipulate their audiences through visual and audio and this installment was certainly no exception. From the opening sequence which showcased Lol and Kelly’s late dad shouting obscenities from behind a butcher’s curtain, to the profound and silent shot of the living room in which he was brutally murdered by his eldest daughter for raping her best friend. This shot was almost identical to the one used in a previous series during the aftermath of this bloodbath and represented the calm before the storm as Lol later reveals the true events during the infamous ‘dinner table scene’.
Episode 3 did end on happy note, however, as Woody proposed to Lol with a fluffy neon pipe cleaner, despite Kelly’s apparent downward spiral into heroin addiction and Milky’s brewing rage. These three elements were essentially what pieced together the fourth and final episode, which manifested as a 100(ish)-minute feature length installment that I stayed up waaay past my Sunday night bedtime to watch. I’m going to keep the next paragraph short and sweet because I’m conscious that the author of War and Peace might starting turning in his grave if this account becomes much longer!
Episode 4 (Winter) was basically a tying up of ends in which Kelly rejoins the group after being thrown out by Harvey and arguing with Gadget, Lol and Woody marry in an emotional finale after their mums becoming embroiled in humorous fisticuffs, and Milky hires a group of burly bruisers who cart Combo off in an ominous van to a remote location presumably to beat him a pulp and leave him for dead. However, we never do find out what came of Combo’s demise and whether or not he lived to tell the tale of meeting his victim’s wrathful revenge, all we have is a string of close ups of Milky’s tearful face to patchwork our own presumptions. So this begs the question, is this really the end of This Is England?
So for all the @SallyCinnamons that will no doubt be appearing on Instagram over the next few weeks, parading their Ecstasy-chic OOTD and swapping the #SundayBlues for #HappyMondays, it’s been a riot. For all of those invested Shane Meadows/This Is England fans, it’s pretty sad news that this is most likely the final series and I, for one, can already feel the separation anxiety setting in. When you become so embroiled in the lives of a fictional friendship group, it becomes difficult to envisage them ever being apart from their on-screen buddies. However, with the profound and enduring acting that has been displayed over the last four weeks, it’s surely only the beginning for these incredible thespians and who knows what tricks Mr. Meadows has up his sleeve next…