Friday, 2 December 2011

New series: This is England 88

Not sure how this slipped by me until now but coming to Channel 4 in the UK on December 13th, 14th and 15th are three hour long episodes continuing the stories of Shaun, Woody, Lol, Combo, and the rest of the This is England gang.  After the immense popularity of the previous television installment (four episodes aired in September 2010) This is England 86, that took in the mod revival scene, rumours appeared of further television adventures of the Midlands youths.  But I had no idea it would be so soon! 

Starting with Shane Meadow's film This is England made back in 2006, audiences were introduced to Shaun, a lonely schoolkid who just lost his Dad in the Falklands War.  Thomas Turgoose plays Shaun with a heartbreakingly real performance (his Mum died just after filming completed), just another example of Shane Meadows fantastic work with unknown actors.  Stephen Graham was gifted the role of neo-nazi ex-con Combo and delivered one of those typically blistering performances that comes from a great actor given a great character (see also Norton in American History X and Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper).  The film took in the skinhead subculture of the early 80s and showed Shaun first being taken under the wing of Woody and his gang of pleasant older kids but then being lured into Combo's world of hatred, far right-wing politics and violence.  It is an absolute masterpiece and truly an example of the Best of British that I shamefully neglected to put on my list of the best films of the 00's

This is England 86 followed as a four part TV series and revealed what happened to Milky after the shocking ending to the 2006 film.  The fashions had changed, Combo was locked away before returning in the last episodes and the focus was much more on the realtionship of Woody and Lol.  Deviating from the subject of racism and nationalism and concentrating on Lol's past gave Meadows and co-writer Jack Thorne a chance to explore another thorny subject.  With the return of Lol's Dad, Mick, (a mesmerising, menacing performance from Johnny Harris), revelations about Lol's past and a history of abuse came out culminating in a disturbing climax to the series.  Be warned if you didn't catch this on TV; there is a shocking rape scene and a gripping confrontation in the final episodes.  Vicky McClure deservedly won a BAFTA for her fearless performance as Lol and Meadows bravely left the story with audiences having very mixed feelings towards the formerly wacky racist nutjob Combo.  It may not have been as satisfying as the film, but the TV series proved there's definitely a lot more life left in these beautifully realised characters. 

This is England 88 is a Christmas special but you'll understand if I don't get my hopes up for any Christmas cheer as it looks like all is still not well in the Midlands two years on from the last series.  Shaun and girlfriend Smell are having some difficulties now Shaun is at college, and from the looks of Woody and Lol's faces in the trailer below, this could be another depressing descent into the lives of the once (relatively) carefree youths now struggling with growing up and facing the adult world of unemployment, relationships and for Combo another prison term. 

It might look and sound incredibly grim but the magic of Meadows is the characters and the nostalgia.  We've watched them grow from skinheads to mods to the alternative rock fashions and music of The Smiths.  The Falklands, the World Cup and the music have all been vital references in the film and series so far.  Meadows promises that This is England 90 is in development and though I thought this might be a ray of hope that things might end happily for the characters with talks of the rave scene and ecstasy, then Meadows crushes this by saying 'I'd seen a lot of friends get into heroin off the back of that, so in a kind of way, Shaun's journey, if there is to be a second series, will continue in 1990.' 

So far This is England has given us racism, violence, rape and sexual abuse.  Find out what more it's got in store for us in just under two weeks.  But if this really is England, how do I get out?

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