Wednesday, 29 September 2010

THAT WAS ENGLAND '86...



Shane Meadows' foray into Television This Is England '86 was an interesting one, it almost harked back to the era it portrayed and before with a real authentic 'play for today' type feel to it. It was similar to The Blackstuff from Alan Bleasdale and it's spin off series from way back when. Actually we're rather short on good homegrown Television nowadays - unlike across the pond which is the polar opposite with heavyweight essential series' like The Soprano's, The Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men and now even Martin Scorsese's getting involved with Boardwalk Empire. Over here we're rather starved. More recently Channel 4's Red Riding hit the right note, as did zombie satire Dead Set and for comedy I thought Misfits was more than watchable. Personally I'm no great fan of Skins and I'm not keen on Shameless at all (even though one of it's writer's Jack Thorne was on board for this.) though both seem to have had success. I've seen this follow up to Shane Meadows' 2006 film hailed in the Guardian as being up there with the likes of Jimmy McGovern's The Street! Well it's all about opinions but I didn't like that much, I thought it was over the top, far-fetched and too contrived. I'd rather say it rubs shoulders with the likes of the excellent and yet annoyingly abruptly ended real life drama The Cops or heavyweight masterpiece Our Friends in the North both from BBC2. Earlier than that you have some great TV to choose from Edge of Darkness, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy and Smiley's People starring Alec Guinness, we used to have the Play for Today features as mentioned above that brought us some truly amazing works from the likes of Alan Clarke - Made in Britain, The Firm and The Road. Mike Leigh's Nuts in May and Meantime and the aforementioned Blackstuff, which along the way made household names from it's cast, some of which went all the way to Hollywood. See we can do decent TV it just only comes around once in a few years. So it was more than welcome when This Is England '86 was announced as a potential project, what only seems not too long ago, such is the fast turnaround for TV that it's seemingly come and gone very quickly. So what of it then and how did it fare?
Well there's no denying the original film had plenty of scope for more and the decision to do a four part follow up for TV made it very interesting indeed. We catch up with Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) and his old friends a few years later. It's 1986 Shaun has just done his last exam and awaits a bleak future in Thatcher's Britain. Since the incident with Combo (Stephen Graham) Shaun had grown apart and lost touch with the original group of friends who took him under their wing but a chance encounter in hospital see's him reunited.
On the whole this was very good stuff. Enjoyable, tense, gripping and at times overpowering stuff. I thought the last two episodes directed by Shane Meadows were better than the opening two which seemed to have far too much light relief bordering on slapstick which for me didn't fit with the tone of the original subject matter. Though the first was always about re-acquainting everyone I guess, so fair do's.

That was one of the minor points, there were a few niggling bits I wasn't keen on. I'm not one to pour scorn on minor details like others have pissed and moaned about - the double glazing, modern ring pulls, Band t-shirts that are fourteen years too early or if they got this or that date wrong, was that a modern car 4 miles away? give over! There were a few errors in there, sure but that's just superficial, not integral to the script or not really important when you've got a good storyline developing and most of the above can be put down to the time constraints and modest TV budgets. Some have taken great joy in criticising it. Whilst there are a few question marks, at the end of the day we've been given some decent telly which everyone I know has made a point of sitting down to watch each week, which rarely happens these days.
My other main gripe that did and continues to baffle me somewhat were the characters of Banjo and Meggy. Fast forward a few years and how are Meggy and Banjo part of the young friends gang? I know over time things change, Harvey was a perfect example of this as are the fact other members of the original gang aren't there now. Friends do grow apart, move on over time - it happens. But with these two I find it's something I'm rather uneasy with? The fact they're 15/20 years older than the rest is one argument, the other is in the film Banjo arrives on the scene with Combo after being in prison with him (Meggy's around already, but it's not explained how and why he's friends with the gang) and throughout the course of the original film they are exposed a pair of horrible, vile bigots. Meggy is seen going off with the breakaway gang, spraying racist graffiti and attempting to shit on the floor of Mr Sandhu's shop, Shaun and Gadget have been taken in by Combo, but they are children, what's Meggy's excuse?
The last we see of them in fact is Meggy egging Combo on when he's beating the life out of Milky (Andrew Shim) and Banjo holding Shaun down, with Banjo proclaiming he 'wants a part of it, he wants in' even that is too much for Combo who glasses him and throws them both out declaring them as pieces of shit. They were! So how in the years that have passed have they now become part of this gang and mellowed into this light hearted almost comedy double act? Baking cakes for Woody (Joe Gilgun) and Lol's (Vicky McClure) wedding? For instance, during the fight with Flip (Perry Fitzpatrick) and co in episode three, technically Banjo should've just strolled forward and put Flip on his arse. Because in the film he's a big horrible bastard. No?
I don't know, I don't like to pick holes but that bit is one that irked me.


I won't dwell on the bits I didn't like because what we had here is a clever and on the whole thoroughly decent follow up to the acclaimed film. It was enjoyable more so when it got dark and real and it did get dark! Shane Meadows isn't new, some of the responses and reactions to this series coming from celebrities and the like who have only discovered him is a bit sickly, it's more attention that is overdue for sure, though it makes me chuckle some what. I was there in the late 90s watching his films in empty cinemas (if they were lucky to get a limited release). People who haven't checked out his previous work really should. Checking his forum I find myself frustrated by these types who've only just come across him and come out with nonsense, take Lol's horrible father for instance. He's played with horrible, vile menace rather well by Johnny Harris who's been in a number of TV and film work, most notably the impressive gritty debut from Paul Andrew Williams London to Brighton, yet some people there have said such priceless ignorant stuff like Paddy Considine or even Eddie Marsan was great as Mick. It's not difficult to read up and check things is it? I'm a bit of a film geek in all honesty but even so, you don't require an extensive knowledge to know your onions.
Anyway I'm ranting now and I've strayed right the fuck away, so back to the series. I look forward to watching this uninterrupted without those annoying adverts and a week in between to really enjoy it properly, so the dvd is ordered. I thought the characters of Flip and Mick were a welcome addition to the story, both classic Meadows characters, with Flip being unintentionally hilarious at times, shades of Considine's Morrell in Meadows' a Room for Romeo Brass for me.
I think watching it as a whole piece it will be much more complete. I do think the comedic stuff was a little too much though at times it was admittedly funny, even when way over the top Flip was on screen, he did have a presence. But, as mentioned above when it got dark it got real it was intense and there was some seriously good stuff on offer. Shane and his cast and crew dealt with some nasty subjects with great aplomb and deserve applause, As an ensemble they were all decent, Thomas Turgoose had never acted when he made his debut in the film and he's grown with it, he was spot on as was Vicky McClure as tormented Lol. Stephen Graham's appearance may have only been brief but he certainly has a presence.
The controversial rape scene involving Mick and the character Trev (Danielle Watson) was (as horrible as it was) rather outstanding and both actors should be applauded for that, it was handled incredibly well. It seemed to feel so much more real because they knew each other and because it was Trev as the victim. I'd joked she'd not had a lot to say in both the film and the series and had hoped before it was over she might get the chance. She was also notably the only character who had remained loyal to the seemingly flirtatious phase of being a an actual skin. Given she'd done and said very little seemed to make that scene all the more harrowing and she was spot on in the last two episodes, it made you feel even worse for her such was the realism! Combo's return and his redemption was absolutely bang on, faultless. In the end you could argue Shaun finally came of age, obviously Lol conquered her demons and can fight on presumably back with Woody, but what of the rest? it didn't really conclude it for everyone, okay life doesn't - but what becomes of the rest of the group? is Trev forever damaged by evil Mick? Does Harvey continue to get beaten up by his abusive father which we only saw glimpses of, does Meggy realise he has a son? Some loose ends there, look forward to This is England '90 I reckon. it's been mooted already and with a possible 'Madchester vibe'
The biggest success story though will come from the two harrowing scenes, Ofcom were rushed off their feet after Epsiode Three. Controversy, complaints, criticism and of course the most important part - people and victims speaking out. It made the press, got people talking, the main point being it worked! Good television is about entertainment, great television has a point and can even make a difference in the real world. YHN

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