Bafta Thoughts and Shane Meadows

Tuesday February 12, 2008 in films | reviews

Despite being exhausted from a hectic weekend, I valiantly sat up on Sunday night to watch the Bafta awards. I was glad I did, as most of my favourites from the last year received some recognition. Javier Bardem was named Best Supporting Actor for No Country For Old Men, Control received a screenwriting award and Atonement was named Best Film. I was also glad to see that Shane Meadows was given the award for Best British Film for This Is England. I’ve followed Meadows’ career for years, from his early short films including Small Time through to Twenty Four Seven and the excellent A Room For Romeo Brass and Dead Man’s Shoes. Like all of his work, This Is England is set in his native Midlands and follows a schoolboy’s experience of skinhead culture in 1983.

I watched This Is England the night after I’d seen the exhausting Ashes to Ashes, a new over the top TV series set in 1981 – a 1981 writ large with new romantics everywhere and a soundtrack of synthesised pop to drive you crazy. Although my classroom memories are probably more attuned to new romanticism than skinheads, I appreciated Shane Meadows film much more than Ashes to Ashes because it chose not to ram the 1980s culture, in this case mostly ugly, in my face. There was some attention to get the detail of the period correct, and, like Ashes to Ashes This Is England featured shots of clunky early computers and the fashions – skinhead or otherwise – are shockingly dated. There is also an effective montage opening the film that brought the real horror of the early 80s back for me – the Falklands War. Margaret Thatcher. But the film eavesdropped on a set of characters that are probably evident in any time; the vulnerable, the easily led and the bullies.

Tempted by the friendship and shared culture of the local skinheads, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is attracted by the uniform, music and petty vandalism that his new comrades can provide. This is until the edgy and unpredictible Combo (Steven Graham) returns to the gang following a spell in prison. His presence causes a rift, with particular consequences on Shaun.

Like all of Meadows’ films, there is some difficult and uncomfortable subject matter, made – like A Room For Romeo Brass – more disturbing by the involvement of impressionable children. Bleak at times This Is England does offer some hope at the end, and although it brought to mind Alan Clarke’s Made In Britain – itself made in 1983 – it wasn’t nearly as depressing in outlook. Perhaps times really have changed for the better.

None of This Is England‘s cast received awards on Sunday night and the Best Actor went to Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood, who himself appeared in another slice of social realism in My Beautiful Laundrette. This 1985 film was much lauded although I’ve always found it unrealistic – especially Day Lewis. A little too much style over content. More Ashes to Ashes than This Is England.

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