This is England
Dir: Shane Meadows
This is England conforms to the BRITISH CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL REALISM Genre. Social Realism in films is representative of real life, with all its difficulties. The stories and people portrayed are everyday characters, usually from working class backgrounds. Typically, films within the social realist canon are gritty, urban dramas about the struggle to survive the daily grind.
The Social Realism Genre was born in the 1960s in an era called British New Wave. Amongst the many films that emerged during the new wave of social realism, there are dozens of stunning examples that continue being championed to this day. Look Back in Anger, A Taste Of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, This Sporting Life, Billy Liar, Cathy Come Home, Up The Junction and Room At The Top,
Social Realism is often regarded as Britain’s richest gift to world cinema. It grew out of the state sponsored Documentary movement of the 1930s and 1940s, and one of the distinctive generic conventions is a documentary style of filming, including:
Lighting – attempts to reproduce naturalistic lighting
Settings – often on location in urban housing estates.
Hand held camera – making the audience feel that they are part of the action
Unknown actors – this helps the audience focus on the characters rather than be influenced by a famous actor’s stereotype.
The film-maker has a specific argument or message to deliver about the social world and employs realist conventions to express this message or argument
Low budget – they are rarely funded by the ‘studio’s system as they are not greater money-makers, so they are often funded independently or through organisations such as the Film Councils, National Lottery, Channel 4 etc.
Under represented groups in society become represented
The texts often SUBVERT the traditional heroic idea of Britishness depicted in war films, Bond films etc.
In NARRATIVE terms the story is always told in a linear way, with events unfolding around the central characters rather than with plots and sub plots and several narrative strands as in soaps Etc
This is England conforms to these conventions in the following way:
Lighting – scenes such as in the beginning in Sean’s home, in the school, in the cafe, in the flat where they meet etc are lit to make them look as naturalistic as possible.
The film is shot on location on a run down estate somewhere in the north of England.which adds a strong sense of realism.
The use of unknown actors especially Thomas Turgoose as Sean with their own accents also helps to achieve this naturalism.
The film is loosely based on Shane Meadow’s upbringing in Uttoxeter in Staffordshire, although the actual location is unclear, as there are scenes on a coastline. Unlike Sweet Sixteen this is an overtly political film, set in the early 1980s the film’s opening sequence is a montage of scenes from notable events in the decade such as the Miners Strike, the Greenham Common Protests against the siting of American Cruise Missiles, and most notably the Falklands war, which overflows into the film as taking Sean’s dad’s life.
The message is that this generation is turning to racist groups as a scapegoat for what they see as a society where the indigenous British are becoming marginalised and overwhelmed by immigration . Underlying that there is also a theme which demonstrates that youth culture can also spawn ‘tribes’ such as skinheads who may look different but also accept traditional values of tolerance. The skinhead culture which grew out of the ’mods and rockers’ culture of the sixties were proud of their working class roots which is how they adopted their ‘boots and braces’ signature dress. Meadows is disillusioned with the ‘flag waving’ and xenophobic celebration of the Falklands victory which he saw as hiding the fact that the British forces overwhelmed the untrained and ill-prepared Argentine forces. These were signs of a hypocritical approach where we were celebrating a great colonial victory at the time of high unemployment and divisiveness at home as a result of the Thatcherite government.
Like Sweet Sixteen the film is also a Coming of Age Text – showing the events surrounding a transition between childhood and adulthood. Unlike Sweet Sixteen it is not an ‘Underclass’ film – the film portrays characters who are either in work or in school. It does emphasise a masculine world of domination by violence and bullying – and this is compared to the macho bullying of the Argentines.
Shane Meadows is not famous for social realist films, but has made films with a distinctively regional flavour. Other films include Somers Town, Dead Mens Shoes, and various short fims and mockumentaries.
The films funding is typical of low budget, independently produced film. The film was a critical success winning many awards, and was also a commercial success making over $8m on a cost of £1.5m. This is England is a co-production with Film 4 and the Lottery funded UK Film Council, Screen Yorkshire has invested in it .
Issues regarding The UK Film Council and funding could be considered here as well as what makes a film British.
The film was initially shown in April-May 2007 on 150 screens, There was limited US release. Distributed in the UK by Optimum
Shane employs a ‘linear narrative’ social realist cinema adhere to conventional narrative structures to make the story more realistic. The film could be analysed using Todorov’s theory of narrative organisation:
A state of equilibrium is defined
Sean lives with his mum, his dad was killed in the Falklands war, he is unhappy, he gets bullied at school.
Disruption to the equilibrium by some action or crisis.
Sean meets Woody and his skinhead gang after he is involved in a bullying incident, they befriend him and ‘initiate’ him into their gang, dressing him in skinhead ‘uniform’
The Character(s) recognition that there has been a disruption, setting goals to resolve problem
Sean joins the ‘splinter’ gang around Combo and gets drawn in to the racist National Front and their activities.
The Character(s) attempt to repair the disruption, obstacles need to be overcome to restore order.
Sean witnesses the violent attack on Milky and realises that Combo is a vicious racist bully
Reinstatment to the equilibrium. Situation is resolved, a conclusion is announced.
The new equilibrium is that Sean rejects the racist ideology of Combo, symbolically throwing the flag into the sea.
Representation – Time and Place
The opening sequence is important in representing the social, historical and cultural context of the film – the montage of archive footage from 1980s TV is shown in deliberately grainy quality which helps to signify the ‘historical’ context, the sound track – typical late 70s SKA – reflects the skinhead culture who adopted this style of music, the fonts of the titles are in a stencil-like typeface, recalling army-style signs and dog tags. Meadows later revealed that the numbers which scroll up under the crew’s names are real numbers of British soldiers killed in the Falklands war.
The sequence moves from trivial clips fo Roland rat, Space Invaders – the first computer game- hairs styles of the the ‘new romantic’ group Duran Duran, the wedding of Charles and Di, then this becomes increasingly serious with anti US air base protests, the miners strike, a National Front March, and race riots. The sequence ends with news clips from the Falklands war showing shocking scenes of injured soldiers with their legs blown off. Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is a constant presence throughout.
Of course this is a highly selective representation of the era intending to point to the challenging ideologies of the film. It suggests that Margaret Thatcher was behind all the social and political changes of the period, and it shows how Shane Meadows has constructed his own point of view about ‘Reality’.
Representation – Characters
The central character Sean is a 12 year old growing up on a council estate. The opening shot
The sequence that follows the opening titles introduces audiences to the central character of This is England, Shaun, a 12-year old who is growing up on a Nottingham council estate in the 1980s and who is befriended by a tribe of Skinheads. The scene begins with Shaun waking up in bed. His room, clothes and later the surrounding streets clearly represent the poverty that Shaun’s family live in. Shaun’s life is also characterised by conflict: he argues with a shop-owner; is bullied by other boys and ends up in a fight. In the playground the pupils are grouped in clearly defined tribes each with recognisable identities evident in their clothes and haircuts. Shaun stands out from everyone else on the non-uniform day held on the last day at school, as his flared jeans, tan boots and stripy jacket collar are conspicuously out of fashion. He is alone and does not belong to any of the groups of pupils. Most significantly the joke which provokes the fight makes the audience aware that Shaun’s father is dead, increasing his sense of isolation. As we see Shaun struggle to assert himself against this onslaught, the audience can understand the motivation for his desire to be accepted and become part of a group, in this case, by joining the ‘family’ of skinheads whose leader, Woody, is the only person to show him positive interest and concern. Shane Meadows constructs the character of Shaun sympathetically. His miserable facial expressions, tatty clothes and small size (especially relative to those he confronts) encourage the audience to feel sorry for him, so they hope that he will find the acceptance and friendship he desperately needs. This sympathy for Shaun is essential for the audience to follow the character as he falls under the influence of the Nazi skin-head Combo, whose shaven head, tattoos and snarling expression represents him as a stereotypical thug. (Although as we see he also has a soft side in the scene when he declares his love – for Woody’s girlfriend and gets rejected.)
Representation of gender. The leading characters are male, supporting characters are female. Woody’s girlfriend Lol has a regular job – she’s a nurse – and she’s seen as a stabilising influence on the group, The other girl – ‘Smell’ is a ‘hybrid’ punk/skinhead who gives Sean his first sexual experience – how do girls/boys respond to that scene? Does this re-enforce patriarchal stereotypes? The other male supporting characters – Gadget, is represented as someone who himself feels ‘put-upon’ because of his size and quickly joins Combo because it gives him the chance to ‘put upon’ someone else. The black character Milky is important because he becomes the target of Combo’s drink and drug induced violent rage at the end of the film which leads to Sean’s disillusionment. Is the representation of Milky fair and accurate? The men are seen as having to pursue increasingly violent and criminal means to get their goals. The women are a steadying factor. Is this gender stereotyping?
Like Sweet Sixteen there is a strong representation of contemporary Britain in post-industrial decline, in desperation turning to nationalism to re-capture the true spirit of England.
Shot on location it attempts to reflect ‘realism’ of the council estate but also juxtaposed with panoramic beauty of the local countryside. Also like Sweet Sixteen there are no big name stars. There were some character actors recognisable from other dramas. But the younger actors were novices.
Is there an audience for modern social realism? Consider audience viewing figures/cinema numbers etc? Who does this appeal to?
This is England provides a good example of the different ways different audiences can respond to films. Texts generally construct preferred meanings but these are not the only interpretations available to audiences. Various factors influence how audiences decode texts, not Least the demographic and psychometric profiles of the audience. For example consider how your ethnic background might influence the way you respond to Combo or your social background might determine the way you interpret the class issues in the film. An audience member’s political beliefs will certainly impact on their interpretation of the film given the representation of social issues and Thatcher’s influence on 1980’s society.
Consider nature of stereotypes within the film? To what extent are these realistic or merely expected?