BACK TO THE OLD HOUSE
Pre-Smiths biopic England Is Mine stars Jack Lowden as Morrissey. But how did he become Steven Patrick? “I PLAYED HOW SOON IS NOW? 25 TIMES IN A ROW.”
England Is Mine, the new imaginative portrait of Morrissey in the years before The Smiths, has already drawn opprobrium from early intimate James Maker, who has called it “not a biopic, but historical fiction”. Fiction it may be, but Jack Lowden’s portrayal of the film’s subject touches on truths and sentiments that fans will respond to. Just as darkened underpasses, iron bridges and whirling waltzers are among the visual references that director Mark Gill has included in the film’s on-location vistas of ’70s Northern grot, so the predica ment of the young Steven, unsurprisingly, plays out like such thwarted, frustrated early Smiths songs as Still Ill and You’ve Got Everything Now. In order to portray him, Jack Lowden – familiar from the BBC’s 2016 adaptation of War & Peace and Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk – first looked to his own adolescent experiences. “I grew up outside the bubble of The Smiths and Morrissey, which was quite handy because I don’t have any deeply embedded preconceptions or opinions about him, I just played the guy on the page,” he says. “In the script, there was a sort of very profound and succinct version of himself that he seemed to keep wanting to put across, especially in the beautiful monologues in his head throughout the film. Then whenever he was in front of somebody, he’d fall flat on his face. I think everybody’s got an ideal of themselves, especially when you’re in your late teens. I got to grips with that, certainly.” Capturing his subject’s voice, mannerisms and expression – the lead character is surprisingly tongue-tied for much of the action – was arrived at by careful and selective study of the primary sources. “We were very careful not to spend too much time looking at him from The Smiths onwards, because the film doesn’t cover that at all,” says Lowden. “I worked a lot from some early photographs, you know, the one with the shaggy T.Rex looking hair. It was more about his physicality for me. We came up with a way of talking that wasn’t too much of a vulgar impression – there’s an early clip where he takes a camera crew around Stretford, to his old school, I worked on that for the accent. But Mark wouldn’t even let me read [2013 Morrissey memoir] Autobiography, because he wanted me to react to the script.” One area not off limits was his music. “Massively so,” says Lowden. “The music is completely coloured by everything in his life up to that point. I got absolutely addicted to How Soon Is Now? I played it 25 times once on a car journey. The tone of his voice, there was something so haunting about it. I hired a car most weekends, and I’d drive around the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the moors, and play it over and over, it resonated so much. This Charming Man was massive too, we played that a lot on set. And I love Every Day Is Like Sunday. But Mark wanted me to listen more to the music that [Morrissey] listened to. One of my favourite parts of the film was doing the song by The Shangri-Las.” Indeed, seeing Lowden’s Morrissey channelling The ShangriLas’ Give Him A Great Big Kiss in his south Manchester bedroom, and then singing it on-stage with The Nosebleeds, speaks of the film’s peculiarly uplifting nature. Does he hope Morrissey watches it? “I hope he does,” says Lowden. “I can imagine it will be bizarre for him. But I hope he does.” Ian Harrison
England Is Mine is released on August 4.