(This article was written by me on May 29th 2016)
“That’s what this nation has been built on, proud men”
Odds are you will already have seen Shane Meadows’ masterpiece This is England, I’m fairly late to the party on this one.
If however you haven’t seen it then I would urge you to, especially as a Brit. This film is essential viewing, now more than ever.
It’s a piece of art to be honest: unabashedly British in the best possible, grimy, swear-y, working-class way. Woody, Gadget and the gang of misfit skinheads that our young protagonist Shaun becomes involved in bleed charisma and encapsulate a twisted sense of nostalgia that seems inherently attached to British childhood. Getting involved in the older, bad kid’s gangs? Check. Trying to dress like them? Check. Smashing up anything that looks vaguely abandoned? You get the jist. The film looks fucking fantastic too. Sun seeps through green trees on to dirty council estates; blue skies loom over grey beaches… The mood is perfect and the energy crackles thanks to snappy, familiarly shocking dialogue delivered by a group of great young actors. Thomas Turgoose is a pure talent. It is rare that child actors are as good, as comfortable and as natural as he is.
The film makes me feel proud to be British.
Combo is also proud to be British. Brilliantly and terrifyingly portrayed by Stephen Graham, Combo is dominant, militant and scathingly xenophobic. He makes a speech to the gang about what it means to be English: the duty of protecting our great nation, the duty to keep it great and the unfairness of immigrants taking cheap labour away from hard working, loyal, white Englishmen. He says they need to fight the fight on the streets. He says they need to keep England proud. He says these things with such passion and vigour that you can almost see where he’s coming from. Almost.
The view that Shane Meadows portrays through the character of Combo is a topical one, easily applied to Britain’s current issues. With the EU referendum coming up, opinions shaped much like this view seem to be widespread. But why? It is obvious that Combo is scared, lonely and confused. It is obvious that he is living in a time of fear, in a place seemingly abandoned by the government and looking for someone to blame.
Muslims are terrorists right? Blame them.
Immigrants steal jobs right? Blame them.
Refugees take our houses right? Blame them.
This view seems pretty backwards. Whatever happened to “safety in numbers”? Surely in a time of fear we should stay together rather than becoming more divided.
Its an opinion that’s often brought about by a perverted sense of Britain’s world status. This is England highlights this as well, being set in the fallout of the Falkland’s war. This was a war that Britain fought in ’82 for 10 weeks in which 649 Argentinian soldiers and 255 British soldiers were killed. It was for a patch of farm land not even a 10th of the size of England that we were determined to make sure remained in what scraps were left of the British Empire.
Britain’s original empire is long gone. Britain is no longer the world power that it was or the world power that many seem to think it still is. It is okay to be proud to be British, to be proud that Britain can produce films such as This is England and relate to such films, but that red cross doesn’t mean what it used to mean. Maybe, like Shaun, it’s time to throw it into the sea.
written by Caleb Carter