Film Friday: This is England

this is england
Currently streaming on Netflix. Click poster for image source.

Sometimes you watch random films on Netflix and find a gem.

This is England follows a lonely kid named Shaun who joins a group of big-hearted, tough-looking skinheads in 1983. Shaun’s father died in the Falklands War, which makes him, for the most part, really unpopular. So it makes sense that he’d elect to join a group of social outcasts. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Shaun meets Woody, the charismatic leader of the group of skinheads.  Shaun’s discomfort, even fear, is palpable, yet Woody, with his torn clothes and shaved head and outlandish girlfriend, is nicer to Shaun than anyone else. They embark on a series of devilish but harmless adventures, including a montage where they run through abandoned houses, breaking windows and smashing old furniture for pleasure.

Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, the movie takes a decidedly darker turn after Combo, an insecure, xenophobic neo-nationalist, enters the picture. Combo, fresh out of jail, returns and reclaims his position as leader of the group. He’s alternately frightening and magnetic, a natural leader with a warped view of the world. I watched this movie after I was already a dedicated fan of Boardwalk Empire, and was happily surprised when I realized that the same actor who plays Al Capone on that show (Stephen Graham) did an equally amazing portrayal of a KKK-type figure in modern England. (Side note: Of the interpretations of Capone that I’ve seen, Graham’s is my favorite).

Tension mounts as Combo directs his xenophobic energy toward Milky, who is of Jamaican descent. The original group splinters, with Woody and his closest friends rejecting Combo’s neo-nationalist philosophy. Shaun, however, is entranced by Combo’s enthusiasm, and as the youngest member of the skinheads, is easily persuaded to attend a meeting held by white nationalists.

Fair warning:  This is England starts off somewhat lighthearted, but quickly turns dark and has an ambiguous and not-entirely-satisfying ending. In particular, there’s a really horrible scene where Combo lashes out in irrational anger against Milky. I don’t really mind violence in movies; I’m not sure if this is a general quality of being a young American or it’s because a lot of really violent films and TV shows also happen to be very good. (Though that opinon is debatable, for sure). Then again, “violent” is perhaps not the best word to describe this film.  “Disturbing” is more like it.

Overall, it’s an excellent movie dealing with slightly unusual subject matter in a complex and poignant way. Watch it if you’re tired of the rom-coms and overfunded, underwhelming action movies that usually populate Netflix.

Overall grade: B+

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