ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)
Created by: Shane Meadows
Directors: Tom Harper, Shane Meadows
Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers
Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley etc.
Cinematography: Danny Cohen
Music by: Ludovico Einaudi
Having watched Shane Meadows classic British film, This is England (2006), again of late – review can be found here – I thought it would be fascinating to catch up with the subsequent television series via ALL 4. Thus, Meadows and co-writer, Jack Thorne re-introduce the gritty lives of beloved and some not-so-beloved working-class characters, within the satanic Midland mills of England.
I would strongly advise, if interested in watching this drama, you begin with the film first. That way you can familiarise and experience the events and characters of the show in the correct order. Indeed, this classic series works best when you watch the film and subsequent series, This is England ’88 (2011) and This is England ’90 (2014) as a continuous whole. That way you get the full power of Shane Meadow’s vision for the characters and the period it is set.
The series for me is an engrossing mix of nostalgia, comedy, drama and socio-political exploration. Opening some three years after the original film, we re-join the “gang” going about their lives attempting to breach the difficult gap between youth and adulthood. After the tragic events of 1983, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) has lost contact with the group but over the course of the four episodes he integrates back in. The others are either unemployed or in Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) case employed and attempting some form of upward mobility. Moreover, Lol/Lorraine (Vicky McClure) and Woody are planning to get married. However, the return of Lol’s father (Johnny Harris) brings back painful memories for her and his presence gives the series the villain of the piece.
The structure of the series echoes that of the film. We start with mostly lighter episodes containing a comedic flavour. The seeds of drama, such as Woody backing out of the wedding at the altar, are planted early on. Nonetheless, the early episodes contain some really funny scenes. These include Shaun’s run-in with the local bullies and a party which gets completely out of hand too. There’s much in the way of bawdy and sexual humour, especially when Gadget is used as a sex toy by local divorcee, Trudy. These scenes make us feel safe and warm, yet we know that trouble isn’t far away for the characters.
Once again, the soundtrack is a fantastic mix of eras with a classic collection of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s rock, ska, punk and pop music. Similarly, the fashion of the characters is a postmodern melange of punk, mod and new wave looks. Politics and sport are also thrown into the mix with the 1986 “Hand of God” World Cup dominating the backdrop of the series.
As the characters and era are established and some laughs have been mined, the drama really kicks in. Lol and Woody’s relationship breakdown causes her to make some poor decisions, as she capitulates in the stress of her father’s return. Vicky McClure is fantastic as Lol. You can feel the trauma in her whole being during the scenes with Johnny Harris’ evil patriarch. The culmination of their conflict is one of the most harrowing scenes I have ever witnessed on a television screen.
Overall, This is England ’86 is full of complex emotions, humour and drama. There’s a real honesty to the characters who are just trying to live their lives in the Midlands, despite all the disadvantages it brings. Ultimately, they are striving to be decent but find their loyalties tested by friends, family and their lack of opportunities. Amidst the humour and camaraderie of the series we get some brutal and unforgettable moments of drama which remain long after the credits have rolled. The politicians of Westminster may not care and want to forget about such lives, but Shane Meadows won’t let us forget, delivering a powerful character chorus of laughter, tears and togetherness.