Written by Daisy Leverington

Arts

Why I ❤️ This Is England

We’ve been following Shane Meadows’ rag-tag bunch of disaffected youth for nearly 10 years. As the final instalment, This Is England ’90, airs on Channel 4, Daisy Leverington explains why it’s unmissable telly.

This Is England cast shot

Photo: Channel 4.

Written by Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne, This is England and This is England ’86 and ’88 are based loosely on Meadows’ own experiences of the 1980s. The original film was released in 2006, following a young Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) and his mates as they become involved in the brutal skinhead culture of 1983. The film was such a success that a series of television episodes followed the group as they grew up through the decade.

Cast predominantly from TV Workshop in Nottingham, the local actors weren’t selected from prestigious drama school alumni, they were just really fucking good at what they did. I’m a huge fan of naturalistic dramas, the ones that make you feel very uncomfortable and refuse to pull the camera away from an ugly situation. Meadows doesn’t shy away from moments of horrific violence or of real love. The end scenes of the film are brutal, but we stay with them.

Friendship and loyalty are played with huge integrity, but never rose-tinted. Milky (Andrew Shim) and Woody’s falling out in ’88 is almost as devastating for us, as we’ve know them for years. We know how much they need and love each other. As an audience we aren’t given the upper hand of knowing more than the characters, which makes a change from a lot of modern TV drama.

“The cast speak how they speak and it’s brilliant to hear the accents of my childhood swearing at me from the telly.”

This Is England ‘86 took us through mod culture and the World Cup, and saw Shaun grow up and leave school. Already a veteran of snogging by now, his first kiss with Smell (Rosamund Hanson) legally requires you to watch it from behind your hands, arsecheeks clenched. It’s really something.

This Is England ’88 (my favourite) takes place over Christmas and follows the fallout from Lol and Woody’s break-up. (Incidentally, Woody’s new girlfriend is played by an actress who I worked with recently, and I asked if we’d been at school together, before belatedly realising who she was and fangirling in the photocopier room.) Lol’s dad (Johnny Harris) is a one-man horror film, and is one of the most psychologically terrifying characters on TV.

There is the most horrific end to ’88, played with raw and unflinching honesty by Joe Gilgun and Vicky McClure as Woody and Lol. Meadows somehow finds a laugh in these scenes – and astonishingly, it works. It’s a hard way to end the series. I can understand Meadows wanting to bring everyone back together again afterwards. I hope ‘90 brings some happiness (or failing that, some decent rave drugs) for the main characters, and I’m hoping Combo (Stephen Graham) gets out of prison too.

Shane Meadows lives and works in Beeston near Nottingham, which isn’t far from me, and I chatted to him at a local film night a couple of years ago. I asked him how he so accurately wrote for a character with (perhaps post-natal) depression in Lol’s ’88 story arc. He replied that it was a mixture of trusting Vicky McClure’s ability to tell Lol’s story and seeing people close to him go through a similar experience.

He isolated McClure from the rest of the team and “put her through the wringer” so that her character’s loneliness was something she was really feeling too. Like Trev’s awful rape scene in ’86, he couldn’t mess about; they just had to go for it and do the best they could to make it as repulsive as it is in real life.

“Shaun’s first kiss with Smell legally requires you to watch it from behind your hands, arsecheeks clenched. It’s really something.”

This no-nonsense punch to the gut is what brings the awful reality of these stories to life. The Q&A is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SZjhK36Wxc; I ask my question at 31:53, but the whole thing is worth a look. Apologies for the mumbling, I was a little star struck and trying not to cry. I’ve never seen post-natal depression played well, and never had cause to look out for it until I went through a particularly bad bout myself. I watched in great heaving tears as Lol trudges her way through it. There weren’t enough tissues in Beeston that evening.

The writers, cast and director don’t mess around with fancy exposition in This Is England, they just tell a good story with integrity and honesty. The intonation and local dialect aren’t watered down into generic RP, or hammed up into a Midlands stereotype. The cast speak how they speak and it’s brilliant to hear the accents of my childhood swearing at me from the telly. The grey skies, shit tracksuits, drizzle, gobshitery and pebble-dashed exteriors of my youth are there onscreen, which means they must have existed – which means they must have been important to someone other than me.

There was always someone’s house to call at. It was cold out and warm in. There was always a beer in the fridge. This IS England. It’s my bit of England. It’s where I grew up and what I heard and what I saw and who I am, and it’s fantastic.

@daisyjoy

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Written by Daisy Leverington

Daisy Leverington - Actor, mother, expert at winging it.