Wednesday, 8 September 2010

This is England '86 - Review

Image - the casuals - oh the horror, the horror.

Shane Meadows is a brilliant director with an eye for an image and scene that is truly beautiful, such as at the start of This is England 1986 with the actor playing Shaun catching rain drops in his hand.

But the weakness of Meadows is his writing.

The story last night was simply self indulgent rubbish.

I was 18 in 1986, which would have placed me smack in the middle between Shauns age and the age of Woody and the others, who appear to be in their early twenties.

Anyone who was a skinhead or a casual in 1986 where I came from was regarded as a tragic fashion victim.

For those who were not living in the past in 1986 and wearing stupid Sergio Tachini tracksuits that made them look like escapees from Zippy and Bungles Rainbow TV show or wearing crombies and DM's ( and hence were virtually guaranteed not to pull any females - EVER ) were listening to the start of a whole new genre - which was early rap music.

The music of 1986 and the upcoming musical movement of that era was defined by two bands - The Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, both of whom were on the edge of becoming massive.

In the wings the first stirrings of another musical genre which was just beginning to filter through to the mainstream as well, that of Rave Music which at that time was still defined as Acid House Music.

Watching the TV show last night, one was struck at just how dated it was - even the soundtrack featured an late 1960's Fleetwood Mac track to finish the show !

This is England is based on Shane Meadows own youth, as he is Shaun.

He has said this many times in interviews, and the vicious beating scene of Milky by the half black nazi skinhead Combo, is based on something he himself saw.

It appears that Shane Meadows had a shit childhood that he is now attempting to glorify via this series.

The mob of casuals on their motorbikes were funny, but tragic.

If anyone like that had lived on my working class estate then they would have been run over.

The only casuals by that time were my younger brother and his small firm of mates, who all used to follow West Ham, go to every West Ham and Gillingham match, hated Millwall and glorified the ICF.

They were only 15 and 16 years old, so we forgave them their youthful folly, tragic haircuts and even more tragic fashion sense.

Casuals even by then were becoming dated, as rap and rave were on the scene and becoming massive social and musical movements.

Though I must admit I was no role model at the time for I wore brown brogue and dealer boots with blakeys on them, super skin tight spray on stretch denim jeans, white fred perry t-shirts and a red fred perry cardigan with a black Harrington jacket with a skinhead, and even worse, a bubble perm at one stage - a look that was a tragic cross between a pikey and an ex-skinhead.

As for that time period, the biggest thugs of all where I lived were not the last of the skinheads, who had all left the British Movement by that time, but the police.

We had a local section of the BM in our village called Section 79 run by a half Irish guy called Rory who I was friends with.

The Kent NF organiser also used to live in my village and was friends with the skinheads until they all left the movement en masse after one of them called Big Kev was badly beaten up by a psychotic fellow skinhead in a skinhead pub in East London.

He was beaten so badly by his fellow skinhead that the rest of the gang were sickened by it and all left the skinhead movement at the same time.

Once the group of around twenty ex-skinheads in my village had left the BM, they still hung around together and it was then that I started to hang around with them, as Big Kev had been my best mate all through school.

I was around 17 at that time.

By then one of the local mods, a guy called Graham, who the skinheads had regularly kicked off his scooter, terrorised and beaten up for being a mod over the years, also joined the gang with a few other ex-mods.

There was then about thirty of us, who all used to drink together in the local pubs.

Once the skinheads had left their skinhead phase, then the emphasis within the group was drinking, partying and having a good time.

At the time of the show, 1986, people could still have a good time without the council using anti-social laws to shut you up.

Every weekend people had a party, either in a house or down on the local beach.

One of the ex-mods who joined the group was the son of a publican who owned the best pub in the area, almost right on the edge of the beach - and so we used to get lock ins till 3 and 4 in the morning.

The life though depicted in the series seems desperate and tragic, a relic even in 1986 of an era that had already ended.

The skinheads and casuals then were all on the edge of a new experience, that of the Rave Scene.

Ecstasy first appeared on my estate around 1988.

I remember seeing the first ecstasy pill in late 1988 - and it resembled a transparent suppository filled with multi-coloured small balls.

My mate Graham took it.

It changed him overnight.

He went from being a normal geezer to becoming someone who said 'man' a lot and who tried to tell you how much he 'loved' you and how great the world was whilst talking rubbish for hours at you when he was on them.

I made a decision there and then never to take an ecstasy pill, as to be frank I thought it turned people into plonkers.

Even ex-Neo Nazi skinheads who took it ended up trying to dance to rave music and talking about how much it made them feel warm and fuzzy about people and the world.

I thought it was contrived and a bit effeminate for blokes to go around hugging each other and dancing with each other for eight hours in field in Essex without a break.

But none of this sense of transition is featured in the show.

The characters are the same as they were three years before, none have moved on - which during the 80's was what everyone did - everything was moving on.

The working class were earning good money, my mates who were 16 - 20 were all earning a fortune at the time from all sorts of jobs - and the country seemed to be booming.

Yet the estate where the show is set is depicted as a stereotypical down in the dumps estate, when in reality the 1980's were a time of vibrancy of rising aspirations and opportunites for the majority of the white working class.

I hope the series gets better, as to be frank at the moment it is bloody boring.

The fact that Meadows has a fantastic sense for visual shots, such as the scene on the roof of the hospital with the NF sign in red on the wall acting to contrast the closeness of the group with the racial divisions preached by the NF at the time, does not make up for the boring script.

Occasional scenes such as when the casual thug beat Shaun up were funny, but overall it was like watching a bunch of weirdos and saddos who even in 1986 would have been regarded as pathetic, unfashionable freaks.

I dont remember anyone being like them in 1986.

My score so far ;

9 out of 10 for the visuals.

3 out of 10 for the script.

1 out of 10 for the music.

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Anonymous said...

Afraid you are completely wrong when you say the story is about him, as you can see from this video he outlines that this is NO LONGER about him. Understand some of the criticism however, failure to research is just plain lazy.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with you more, I was really disappointed. Yeah by 1986 I had been there and done it, gone from punk to skinhead, grew up and was working in London earning good money. Maybe it wasn't like that up north, can't comment on that but that era was over by 1980. Like you say anyone who still dressed like that was a fashion victim. Can't believe now I really dressed like that and none of my mates would ever considered marriage, that's what normal boring conventional people did.
Apart from that the script was really boring.

Everything seemed about 10 years out of date, come off it those plonkers on bikes would have been dead meat. May watch the next episode if I have nothing better to do.

Amy said...

I think the girls haircuts looked better in the film.

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to work out where it is set as both the Yorkshire & East Midlands film boards have part funded the show and the bus last night said 'Yorkshire Rider' but the accents are around the Nottingham area...I would guess it is supposed to be South Yorkshire. It is still grim in South Yorkshire now, 20 odd years later! Remember this is the time of the miners strikes and all that and that local area was full of miners (think Brassed Off). Even places like Leeds which thrives now was a dump in the 80's.
London and the South East were very different places to the north of England which was probably a good 3 years behind the times in terms of fashion and musically the North has always had a different scene to London.

Anonymous said...

I could never forgive the end of the original film where Shaun throws the Union Jack away. The meaning being that because of his experiencing of racist violence that any form of national pride must be rejected.

That is the kind of simplistic, yet powerful message that is all pervading in any of these films that get anywhere near to describing how things really are/were.
obviously some producer/funder somewhere along the chain insisted on this message being included.

Anonymous said...

The funniest one for me was in 1985when a coach load of us "football casuals" went to Scarborough for the weekend en route for a bank holiday match in Middlesborough.The first pub we walked into had a large group of skinheads all congregated around the pool table as they did back then.

We were all wearing the sports gear fila,tacchini,ellesse etc supported by long wedge haircuts and there was a bit of tension when we walked in.One of our lads put a coin down to play pool and when it was his turn took off his tracksuit and to the amazement of the big skinhead he was up against was the big skinhead tattoo on my mates forearm.This broke the ice as we were all then taking our tops off and rolling up our trouser legs showing off all our skinhead tattoo's.Turned out a good day with a load of northern skinheads and southern ex skinheads.

Podiums and Puffas said...

I've never seen such tragic rubbish as this programme. It's mostly been said by everyone else already, but really, the location scouts should be strung up: that hospital interior was circa 2010, not remotely 1986; the same for the street scenes. While the clothes were 1981. The accents and dialogue were laughable, the most lamentable being the casuals scenes. And most scenes looked like something from 28 Weeks Later, with not a single other soul to be seen. I mean, that hospital, you've got to laugh.

For a half comical look at what was really going on at that time watch 24 hr Party People. In '86, The Hacienda began cranking out house music, and massive cultural change was afoot for anyone the age of the main protagonists. None of that sense or mood is captured in This Is England 86. It's not England 86, it's rubbish.

Anonymous said...

To be honest I think this just goes to illustrate the north/south divide...

Anonymous said...

The North/South divide.. indeed. And the resonances with the present seem pervasive. There's a reality portrayed, and I'm not sure it's what we want to see or hear right now. But, for me, it's compelling viewing.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in yorkshire in a run down area and left school in 1986.And i can tell you for sure it was nothing like the tv series.
The hair styles, clothing and attitude of the people was nothing like that.If you go back to about 1978
its a closer representation of the time .

Anonymous said...

For a better comment on what people were wearing in that time you should watch Rita, Sue & Bob too.

I was a scooterboy in '86, there were a few skins/mods left in the scooter scene by then, but realistically the rest of the youth movements viewed them as dinosaurs.

Anonymous said...

i grew up in a northern town in the 80' was just like this is england...the reason being, from the late 70's to the mid late 80's nothing much changed...and as for hip hop and dance culture, we didn't get that until last year....

Anonymous said...

I was 15 in 86, growing up in North Nottinghamshire, regularly hanging out in the rougher ends of Nottingham, and various small, shitty North Midlands/South Yorkshire towns. For me, the characters, fashions and music of This is England 86 absolutely ring true - the people we knew were a mix of mods, skins (some right wing, some not), very stylised punks, and varieties thereof. It was very different to the London I occasionally visited - it was pretty dismal, nobody I knew, knew of or saw, was making lots of money. It was a time of change, but I can pretty much think of someone I knew back then who would be an equivalent to every character in the show, from Combo, to Shaun and Smell, to the dickhead wannabe hardmen on the mopeds. Takes me back!!!