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This is England

Thomas Turgoose gets tough in “This is England.”

Children are great actors. I think there are two reasons for this: 1. Kids are less inhibited, and so the acting flows from a more natural place; the world of pretend is one they spend a great deal of time in. But also, 2. We don’t expect a complex emotional palate in a kid. If he’s happy, he laughs. If she’s sad, she cries. Kids may feel complex things, they certainly do, but they express them in simple ways. This is what it is to be a kid. Being a grownup, and thus playing a grownup in a movie, is much more difficult.

So I’m not going to say much about the performance of 12-year-old Thomas Turgoose, in “This is England,” except that it doesn’t disappoint. More impressive, perhaps, is the production and direction of Shane Meadows. He captures a time and a place so well, you feel like you’ve been allowed to peek in his photo album. Period movies are harder the closer the period to present time; I’ll believe whatever you tell me about Victorian England, but I can remember the 80’s. And Meadows gets it right. “This is England” is rich with delightful details; the one that got me was the hairdo and glasses of Shaun’s mother. My mother used to look like this. Hard to believe those giant glasses were ever popular, but such is the fickleness of fashion.

Fashion is a big problem for Shaun, as it is for most 12-year olds. He’s still wearing the ragged bell bottoms his dead dad bought him, and regularly getting picked on for it. Then he meets up with some older skinheads, and, among other things, they change his wardrobe to Docs and pegged jeans. Shaun finds the family he’s missing with these guys, especially the leader Woody, who fills in the place his father left. He also manages to win a girlfriend, though she dresses like Boy George and seems about ten years older than him. Maybe there’s a good reason they call her “Smell.”

Then comes Combo. An old friend of Woody’s, he splits the gang with his nationalist, anti-immigration fervor. He offers Shaun a way to understand the world, and the loss of his own father. Played by Stephen Graham, he almost convinces us that sociopathy is a legitimate response to the problems of England in the 80’s. While he’s certainly the villain, he’s far from mustache-twirling.

“This is England” becomes fairly familiar after that, descending where movies are bound to go when the hero chooses the wrong company. It handles the road well, however, and pulls up before anyone kills anyone else. The final scene, with Shaun on the beach, then looking directly at the camera, is a clear reference to Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” and the comparison is pretty natural – both are movies about how a boy becomes a hood. “This is England” is a more hopeful movie than that French masterpiece, though, because it looks like Shaun might find something more productive to do with his time that pick on Pakistani storekeepers. Like make richly detailed, nostalgic movies, for instance.

Recommended

  • for fans of indie movie gems
  • for children of the 80’s
  • for former, and current, skinheads (of the British, harmless variety, not the American white supremacists who coopted the culture.)
  • for Margaret Thatcher fans.

Not Recommended

  • for the hard of hearing – those English accents are thick.
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