Saturday, May 7, 2011

This Is England (2006)

Who remembers the Falklands War? They're small islands off the coast of Argentina; both Argentina and the U.K. claimed them. The Argentinians occupied them in April 1982, and about two months later the conflict was over, with the U.K. maintaining control, more or less.

The victory made Margaret Thatcher popular, but left some scars on both sides. The 2006 movie This Is England offers one boy's story--his father among the few hundred soldiers who died in the conflict, leaving the boy to navigate grief and adolescence while the punks and rude boys made way for the new skinheads who loved being white more than they did the saving sounds of Toots and Maytals and turned every town into a Ghost Town. The movie charts Shaun's sweet and sad, sometimes harrowing attempts to find his father in the New England that the hard 1980s built.

Thomas Turgoose as Shaun is as natural an actor as you could hope for. His early good times with his new, older mates--still playing in the fields, giving Shaun a sense of home, young skins and their pretty girls all the brothers and sisters he needs--are an idyll he certainly deserves, as temporary as it may be.

But an old friend of Shaun's new circle returns from prison, his head still shaved but his mind cleaned out, leaving nothing except the half-understood--but full-blown committed--politics of hatred. And sadly, Shaun finds a home here, too, and the film becomes a near-nightmare. Loss and hate and hard times is too strong a mix for Shaun, and he's left with only himself to decide what he's going to become.

Don't get me wrong: The early sequence is actually heartwarming, propelled by music and, as The Beatles put it, "that magic feeling--nowhere to go." And this makes the shift downward even more jarring: We want Shaun to mend with his friends. But he has a hard road ahead, and This Is England makes him travel far--almost like Francois Truffaut's alter ego, Antoine Doinel, in The 400 Blows, in that both boys are cut loose, and run to the sea. I'll let you decide what Shaun finds there.
Live Clash, "This Is England": "I got my motorcycle jacket / But I'm walking all the time."

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