This Is England

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(2006) ★★★★★

Film4: Saturday 12 September, 9pm

It’s the best day of his life, when 12-year-old Thomas Turgoose is adopted by the local gang of skinheads. Bullied at school for wearing hand-me-down flares, Thomas takes to the uniform like a trouper – Ben Sherman shirts, Doc Marten boots, jeans, braces and buzzcut. Mum’s not thrilled, but what with dad dying in the Falklands War, she’s grateful for help with the school bullying. This is middle England in the summer of 83.

Toots and the Maytals on the radio, Maggie Thatcher on the telly stomping on the socialist state. The girls dress like Boy George and the boys dress like The Specials. On the last day of term, teachers dish out clips round the ear – they didn’t need to be unpaid social workers back then. The skinhead soundtrack is ska music with a bit of Jam on it, and the group’s dynamic is thrown out of whack by the return of mad alpha male Stephen Graham, out on parole.

Taking Thomas under his wing, Graham leads the gang into the heart of the National Front. There are sorrowful echoes of A Room for Romeo Brass in this soul-searching memoir from Shane Meadows, Britain’s best film-maker of the past 20 years. While not as devastating as Dead Man’s Shows, it’s a terse time-capsule that gets under the skin and – in a typically astute move by Meadows – ends on a hard-earned moment of hope in the manner of François Truffaut’s New Wave classic The 400 Blows. Following two Bafta-winning TV spin-offs, Meadows’ new series This Is England 90 begins on Channel 4 tomorrow (Sunday 13th).

Certificate: 18

Duration: 97min

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