“Thatcher sits there in that ivory tower and sends us off to a fucking fake war.”
This is England is set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain in 1983 in the aftermath of the Falklands war. The film centers around 12-year-old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), a lonely boy whose father has been killed in the war. Set in Yorkshire, Shaun lives with his widowed mother, and at the school he’s the object of bullying. One day on the way home from school, a group of skinheads befriend him, and Shaun joins their ad-hoc family. Soon he’s decked out in skinhead gear, sports a newly shaved head, and acts as a sort of mascot. The group’s leader, Woody (Joseph Gilgun) assumes the role of older brother towards Shaun, and shows the lad a fair amount of affection. The group engages in acts of vandalism but are mainly apolitical. Woody is displaced as the leader in the group when the much more aggressive Combo (Stephen Graham) arrives fresh from prison. He’s got a bone to pick with Woody, and as the power shift in the group changes, the tone of the group alters. The presence of the afro-Caribbean Milky (Andrew Shim) causes tension, for example, and the group becomes a gang–harassing, intimidating, and attacking Indian and Pakistani residents. Soon the neo-nazi Combo joins other skins as part of the National Front.
One of the fascinating aspects of this film is that Combo and his thugs are quite aware that the Falklands War is a spasm of empire, whipping people up to a false nationalism and creating an avid phase of patriotism, and yet while fully aware of this manipulation, rather than reject it, they plunge even further to the right espousing ultra-patriotic language and ideology in a mission to ‘purify’ England.
Another fascinating aspect of the film is the human need to belong to something bigger (and in this case, stronger) than oneself can so often lead to disaster. In This is England, a lonely, powerless boy who misses his father is effectively hijacked by a character unscrupulous enough to use Shaun’s grief for his own purposes. This largely autobiographical film is from director Shane Meadows.