This time we saw the world through the eyes of Shane Meadows, and dare I say – it is a very English world! We have chosen two of his most recognized and acclaimed by the critics’ pictures and to summarize – we are impressed. For me, it was all new and fresh, for NA Tonge – both were revisits of classics.
Director: Shane Meadows
Film 1: “This is England”
Film 2: “Dead Man’s Shoes”
This is England
Author: Agsy E Drapinska
“This is England” is set in the early ’80, in a small working-class town somewhere on the east coast of England. In fact, saying it is set in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t be much far from the truth.
We are introduced to a young, 12-year-old boy, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) who is struggling to fit in after moving into a new town and losing his father in the Falkland War. He bumps into a group of skinheads (much older than him) who tend to be nice to him – a nice feeling for a change, after being bullied in school.
Young Shaun becomes a member of the group and changes his whole appearance to become more like his new friends. The group hits it off by filling their time with loads of unproductive activities – hanging around and hunting, which turns out to be demolishing abandoned buildings. Still, they seem like nice people who are looking for a place to put their energy. Since there is no structure provided or anyone to point them in a different direction – who can blame them?
The skinhead subculture was a relatively new concept to me, since growing up in Poland I have not experienced much of it. My only references were strongly distributed stereotypes – that it represents strong nationalism and racism. “This is England” shows us two sides of the same coin:
- the original skinhead movement, which is more about inclusion, mutual respect, and being a part of something bigger but at the same time remaining an individual. It was strongly expressed through fashion – bold/very short hair (even amongst women), heavy leather boots, jeans, shirt, and suspenders. Several people represent this in the film – Woody (Joseph Gilgun), Milky (Andrew Shim), Lol (Vicky McClure), Jo (Cynthia Fields), and Smell (Rosamund Hanson) to name a few. – worth mentioning is that it is a very diverse group.
- The stereotype skinhead’s that grew from within the subculture and were extremely racist and violent. In the film, they are represented mainly by one person – Combo (Stephen Graham), a gentleman who after years spent in prison reenters the society and our little group. We don’t need to wait long until he comes up with an ultimatum that divides it in two. Clearly sociopathic and troubled Combo brings a lot of disruption and finally causes a tragedy after losing his self-control.
Like always, the more shocking and depraving story sticks to mind and skinheads as a whole subculture was labeled by societies as an intolerant and extremely aggressive bunch of young misunderstood people who should be considered as dangerous.
I found “This is England” an entertaining film that gives me some perspective about England of the 80’, the decade of unevenly distributed wealth, when poor got poorer and rich got richer, struggles of working-class families and strikes. I couldn’t reach my sentiments while watching the film, because my childhood was very different, however, in retrospect I do feel some connection to the story, coming from the strikes themselves. In the ’80 Poland fought against USSR’s influences, there were strikes raising from the working classes, like the one lead by Lech Wałęsa and the workers union “Solidarity” that finally brought an end to communism in Poland and a Nobel Peace Prize to the man himself.
Dead Man’s Shoes
Author: Agsy E Drapinska
“Dead Man’s Shoes” is another interesting film from Shane Meadows, and again, the director sticks to what he knows. This film follows a personal vendetta of Richard (Paddy Considine) on a group of men in a small town in the Midlands, near the Peak District.
Richard, in most scenes, is accompanied by his brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell), but in fact, imagining his presence. It can be quickly concluded that Anthony is dead. However, his story is not fully revealed until the very end, it is clear that some man from town had a part in his fate. Richard is hunting them down and striking with justice.
It is revealed that Richard left for the army, leaving Anthony alone. We see in retrospective scenes how the boy was being used and taken advantage of by the older group of men. The gang forced drugs and alcohol into him, had a laugh at his expense, and was constantly bullying him – Anthony, being mentally disabled, wasn’t capable of fully understanding what was happening and was unable to stand up for himself. The pictures of bullying are flashbacks included throughout the film and they are more uncomfortable to watch than the scenes of Richard executing the men involved.
Finally, there is only one man left, Mark. Turns out that he had moved on and started a family in a nearby village, on the contrary to all the other members of the gang, who seemed not to have progressed in any way after the tragedy of Anthony’s death. Still being the same, pathetic, small-town drug dealers without any imagination, slightest feeling of guilt, or any reflection whatsoever. Mark, however, when realizing that Richard is the mysterious man, looking for him – tells the story of what happened to Anthony to his wife. Without spoiling the ending, I just want to say that, Richard’s actions are strictly planned and strategic, including the grand finale. Mark is the only one feeling guilty of not interrupting the events of the fatal day and stopping the tragedy from happening and for that, he is being punished. But his family isn’t to blame, so they don’t suffer any consequences of the husband’s/father’s mistakes from the past.
This last chapter forces the viewer to consider one more thing and that is – is someone who is letting abuse happen equally guilty?
Through Mark, Richard finally finds closure of his own guilt. The guilt of leaving his brother, the guilt of being embarrassed by having a disabled sibling, the guilt of not being there for him, and finally the guilt of failing to protect him.
What I am taking out of “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a reflection on how we treat other people. How often we do not think about the implications of our own actions, especially if they are in the psychological sphere. Mental health is still taboo in many parts of the world, and taking responsibility for our own actions is easier than taking responsibility for the actions of others, but “only” forced by our behavior. We had laws regarding murder from the very rise of civilization, but the impacts of psychological abuse leading to suicide – is a different story.
How humans can be cruel to one another can sometimes be shocking. Yet, people are creative in all aspects of life: innovation, new technologies, art, music, but also torture, and ways of hurting others – both physically and mentally.
This is England
Author: NA Tonge
Set in an unknown, probably northern, English town during the time of the Falkland conflict and the introduction of Thatcherism, “This is England” follows a period in the life of Shaun.
Dealing with the passing of his soldier father, the young man is plagued by bullies and loneliness. Feeling sorry for Shaun, a ragtag group of skinheads, led by Woody, take Shaun under their wing.
Shaun begins to enjoy life again. He’s kitted out in staple skinhead garb – Doc Martins, a Ben Sherman check shirt, braces, and of course – a shaven head. The newest member of the gang even snatches his first kiss, when he convinces “Smell”, the ditzy “new romantic”, to “take a turn” down the garden with him.
Combo, an older “original skinhead” is released from prison. He seeks to promote his far-right views, cultivated during his time at her majesties pleasure. Mass immigration, in Combo’s view, is a threat to English values. The answer, according to him, is to “take back” what is “ours”, through force.
The overarching message of “This is England” shows how a group or movement, in this case, the skinhead subculture, can be co-opted by others and used as a vessel to spread ideological objectives.
Whilst Woody and the gang adopted the skinhead look to show pride in their working-class roots, and come together through their love of reggae and soul music. Nevertheless, Combo succeeds in persuading some of the gang, including young Shaun, that their time would be better spent exercising hate.
This is England is entirely relevant to the present day. It demonstrates how partisan interests are hijacked and perverted by hollow bullies like Combo. But these bullies don’t all have skin-heads and wear bovver boots – this issue straddles both sides of the political spectrum. “This is England” warns us of the dangers of these infiltrators, and reminds us that we need to stay vigilant to their methods – if not, they’ll suck the fun out of everything.
Warning: the below includes bad language.
Dead Man’s Shoes
Author: NA Tonge
Richard returns to the shit-hole town, where he grew up. He is back to seek vengeance upon some right dickheads, who used and bullied his younger disabled brother, Anthony, whilst he was away serving in the Army.
“Dean Man’s Shoes” flicks between a violent revenge plot-line in the present, and flashbacks to the appalling behavior Anthony endured whilst Richard was away. These reminders of the past built the tension throughout the film, eventually revealing that Anthony killed himself after being forced to drop acid by the aforementioned cunts.
In the present, Richard uses his military skills to brutal effect. He picks the group off one-by-one. Whilst anger for his Brother’s death fuels Richard’s killing spree, the real reason for his actions is through the pain of lost love.
The grim environment is well supported by an equally dreary score, which together captures the atmosphere associated with forgotten towns like the one portrayed. Much like Shane Meadows, I grew up in a provincial market-town in the Midlands and I know the characters in “Dead Man’s Shoes”.
The lack of choice allows abuse of all kinds to easily set into small communities. It becomes the norm really. It takes a while to get over this ‘small-town syndrome’, but “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a stark reminder of how life can pan out when boredom sets in.
Meadows gets catharsis from this and so do I. Maybe it is something that I can relate to because of my background. Others might not.