This is England 18, Optimum, 2 discs, £18·99 This is Shane Meadows (Twenty Four Seven; A Room for Romeo Brass; Dead Man’s Shoes; This is England) 18, Optimum, 4 discs, £32·50 Shane Meadows says that Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) saved him by revealing his vocation – to make films, turning his working-class Midland upbringing to cinematic account. What cinema saved him from appears most directly in his latest, finest and most autobiographical film, last year’s This is England, which shows the Scorsese influence in its stylistic verve and convincing recreation of group dynamics.
In depressed 1983 Grimsby, 12-yearold hero Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), his father killed in the Falklands, is an unhappy, drifting, defiant victim of bullying – until he is adopted by a winningly harmless gang of skinheads.
The film darkens with the arrival of an older, intimidating skinhead, Combo (Stephen Graham), back from prison with terrifying, hate-filled racist politics. Young Shaun is seduced by this charismatic, brutal, privately vulnerable father-figure – until, in a characteristic Meadows way, ugly rage frighteningly erupts.
Meadows’s feature debut, Twenty Four Seven (1997), starring Bob Hoskins, looked at first like a feelgood Full Monty- ish comedy: its hero establishes a boxing club to teach dead-end kids to fight “properly – with control”; but it culminates in a horrifying explosion of murderous fury, as does A Room for Romeo Brass (1999); while Dead Man’s Shoes (2004), a blackly comic revenge Western set in the Peak District, is this director’s Taxi Driver.
The films are fables, but the loving, unpatronising observation and the serious, dark sensibility – melancholy piano solos punctuate This is England, seemingly asking, need these lives be so blighted? – have established Meadows as one of the most impressive directors working in Britain today.
Stylistic verve: Thomas Turgoose as Shaun in ‘This is England’