This Is England is the story of a summertime school holiday, those long weeks between terms where life-changing events can take place. It’s 1983 and school is out. Twelve-year-old Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is an isolated lad growing up in a grim coastal town, whose father has died fighting in the Falklands War. Over the course of the summer holiday he finds fresh male role models when those in the local skinhead scene take him in. With his new friends Shaun discovers a world of parties, first love and the joys of Dr Marten boots. Here he meets Combo (Stephen Graham), an older, racist skinhead who has recently got out of prison. As Combo’s gang harass the local ethnic minorities, the course is set for a rite of passage that will hurl Shaun from innocence to experience racism first hand. (film education website)
This is a Film four film in association with the British Arts Council and Screen Yorkshire.
Contextual elements to the film
The film is set in 1983 this was the second wave of the Skinhead sub culture. Margaret Thatcher was in power and there was an ideology of the ‘rich got richer and the poor were left behind’. There was huge unemployment and there were very little prospects for working class kids with out qualifications, and a lot of the National industries were sold off to private companies.
Skinheads were part of a subculture that were often represented as angry, threatening and aggressive, there representation creates negative stereotypes as you often think of Neo Nazi’s and Racism. This sub culture originated among working class youths in the UK and spread to other parts of the world.
Skinheads ideology was different from a lot of society, they took on a sub cultural ideology, they wanted to be different and they wanted to be different from the Thatchrite ‘me’ culture of the 1980’s. Marxists would argue that in a capitalist society the most important and fundamental divisions are along party lines and there were two fundamental classes.
– the proletariat or workers who have to sell their labour to survive
– the bourgeoisie who own a range of different types of capital (wealth, property, shares).
The Skinheads were part of the proletariat and in a country which was very much in the grips of capitalism they needed to find their values else where.
Ska music in the 1980’s was important to skinheads and new bands were formed such as The Specials and Madness.
A new genre was created called Oi music, lyrics included topics like unemployment, workers rights, harassment by police and oppression by the government. It is argued that Oi music was taken over by a right wing element of the skinhead movement and started to feature lyrics which were racist:
Democracy won’t stand the test of time
Unemployment and a rising rate of crime
Will you stay or will you go?
When the time comes you will have to know
Are you gonna stand and fight for your race?
When the Storm breaks by Blood and Honour.
Shane Meadows grow up on a similar estate to that in the Film and to him the representation of the Skinheads were almost solider like and according to Meadows some were hand picked to become the soldiers of the National Front.
‘When you’re twelve and no one in your town can get a job, and someone comes up to you and say ‘these people are to blame’, it’s easy to believe. I did for about three weeks, some people still believe that as adults and that’s frightening’ – Shane Meadows
The Representations in the film
The representation of teenagers within this film fits into the sub culture of the skinhead movement.
The representations of the teenage boys within this film are hybrid representations. At the beginning of the film when Shaun becomes involved in the gang we see them stereotyped as they are smoking, drinking and smashing up derelict houses. This is stereotypical behaviour which is seen in numerous media texts. However we do see Woody feeling sorry for Shaun and taking him under his wing, Woody’s representation is juxtaposed against Combo’s.
The representations of the girl skin heads and especially Lol are very different from the negative stereotypes of skinheads the media have created, although she partly fits in to the stereotype as she fits into the subculture through her appearance, her behaviour does not fit in to the stereotypical behaviour which could be said to be associated with the Skinhead movement. She plays a countertype representation; she takes on a mother figure to Shaun and is loyal to Woody the leader of the Skinheads.
The tension between the group is seen when Combo arrives on the scene and the group becomes the battle ground for racism.
The first time we see Combo as the stereotype of a neo Nazi was when he is sitting down with the group and recalls a story from when he was in prison:
‘A Wog said white boy give me your pud pud’
The music fades and Combos face is juxtaposed against Milky’s as we are left with non diagetic music and the group start to become torn apart by the beginnings of racism.
Audiences could create oppositional reading to the film; however it may reinforce some audience member’s prejudices.
The opening shot and the end shot are focusing on a photo of Shaun’s father, and the films representations and narrative is seen through the eyes of Shaun. He wants to belong and when Woody’s group take him in he has the companionship he wants, although Combo lures him to his gang through the promise of his dad would be proud of him, Combo creates an ideology of white supremacy and fear.
“can’t get a f*****g flat, they are giving all the flats to those f*****g pakki’s”
Theories which could be included
Stereotyping is a simplistic representation used as a short cut by producers. They provide an easy point of contact when the text needs to communicate quickly with the audience. (Medurst 1995)
It is important to the audience as we do not need many elements to understand the representation as we use IMPLICIT PERSONALITY THEORY to fill in the gaps.
Stereotypes can be used to create moral panics and to reinforce Hegemonic ideology.
Remember with stereotypes there are four elements to them, they are:
1. Appearance — this can include physical appearance and clothing as well as the sound of the voice.
2. Behaviour — typical things that people in this group might do. “Skin heads are aggressive and cause trouble”.
3. The stereotype is constructed in ways that fit the particular medium.
The stereotype in This is England fits in to the Social Realist Genre, the medium of film uses close up shots, sound track music which reinforces representations and long shots of where the cast live to produce connotations of deprivation.
In the case of this film it creates a stereotype which it’s audience will probably find familiar.
4. There will always be a comparison whether real or imaginary with “normal” behaviour.
The features which make up a stereotype are always those which seem somehow different from every-day behaviour. In fact you could almost start any stereotyped description by saying: “this group are different because they…….”
Of course the idea of what is normal in any society is an absurdity and therefore in order to make it clear to us that the stereotyped characters are not behaving “normally” there will frequently be “normal” people used to act as a contrast to them.
Stereotypes involve a number of processes:
– the complexity and variety of a group is reduced to few characteristics
– an exaggerated version of these characteristics is applied to everyone in the group as if they are an essential element of all members of the social group
– these characteristics are represented in the media through media language, dialogue and narrative.
Naturalism is about reducing to nothing the differences between what is on stage and what is not. In naturalism ‘getting it right’ is all about being true to life.
This is seen in This is England by the camera work which is on the whole very static – the audience become the voyeur looking in to the Skinhead gang world. There are some point of view shots and this again brings the audience nearer to the action. The idea of getting it right is also seen in the contextual elements as the film is based on Shane Meadows experiences of growing up in the 1980’s.
De Fleur: stated that mediation represents social value, not social reality.
The mediated world is a world seen by some on behalf of others and it is therefore a constructed reality.
It is important to realise this is Meadows mediated representations and therefore it is constructed although because of the realism within the film through elements such as the cinematography. It can be easy for the audience to suspend their disbelief but it is Meadows constructed reality and it does make a social value statement about the 1980’s where there were moral panics about unemployment and immigration. Working class teenagers needed an ideology of their own, they needed to feel proud and important.