This is England '86


Written by Caroline Doyle
31 Tuesday 31st August 2010

When Shane Meadows’ This is England came along in 2006 I’d bet a lot of people associated skinheads with one thing – racist thuggery (or a similar sentiment with less Victorian wording). Turns out being a skinhead doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a racist. Turns out the clothes are actually pretty sharp, heads not even completely bald and the whole thing is an interesting and important youth movement deserving of closer inspection through film, and indeed with enough steam to get through a four part series as well. Meadows did that.

You could easily dismiss the franchise as a lucky hit for Meadows, put it down to him focusing on something previously untouched by retrospective popular culture and sparking people’s imagination. That’s not fair though, imagine the film without his particular northern touch, capable of nuance and great drama in equal measure and still pruney from their proximity to the kitchen sink.

As much as the idea behind This is England was crucial, both being the reason for its inception and in being a unique selling point for viewers, the real success of the film comes in making an audience, only a small number of whom saw the skinhead culture at this time first hand, connect with this alien group. And boy do you connect.
The four part TV series was premiered last week at the BFI, Southbank with a screening of the first episode and a teaser of what was to come to a room of politely interested industry types and joyously rowdy cast members who were also seeing the final product for the first time.
Like the film, the styling of the TV series is impeccably emotive, giving the feeling (even to someone who was yet to exist in ’86) of being realistic and genuine. This soon loses importance though, because as impressive as it is, what is truly engaging because of its realism and sense of authenticity is the depiction of the lives on screen. That is why there was a TV series still in it after the film had finished, because these people, with their ridiculous clothes and funny hair act and sound just like us, because we want to get to know them more. That is why This is England was so successful – yes the story was great, yes it taught us about skinhead culture, but it also just showed young people who felt like part of something, who battled against being misunderstood, who battled against society and at times against each other. It captured something about youth that resonates with every audience member regardless of if they are too young to have know Otis the Aardvark, or old enough to remember when Marlon Brando was a babe.

The first episode stretches its muscles and slowly drags you into a rib crunching bear hug, immersing you before you know it. I’m not going to spoil the details, but just to say you can expect familiar faces, a lot of pathos, a lot of humour and some good old fashioned northern shoutiness.
I expect the series will take its place alongside Red Riding (but sadly not enough else) being held up as intelligent home grown telly drama to contend with what’s coming out of America, the kind of thing we should be doing more of with the talent we clearly have at our disposal.

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