Shane Meadows has made a career out taking the rough-and-tough lives of people in Britain and making powerful, dramatic, engaging, and strangely cinematic stories out of them. Perhaps his career high is his racism-themed This Is England, which deals with the skinhead culture in 1980s England.
Rather than going the usual sequel route to continue the story, Meadows has opted instead to make a four-part TV miniseries, allowing more time to spend with this great set of characters and to deal with the issues raised in the original film.
We catch up with Shaun (rising star Thomas Turgoose) three years after the traumatic events of the film. He’s no longer a skinhead (which he had been practically forced into being) and has just finished his school exams, now ready to brave the world with his newfound freedom (well, except that he hasn’t yet got a job to support himself).
With the exception of Stephen Graham’s violent skinhead character, Combo, the rest of the characters are back. The first of the four parts takes place on the day of Woody and Lol’s wedding and inevitably Shaun’s path crosses with theirs after an absence of three years.
Whether it’s down to the fact it’s on TV and not a movie, This Is England ’86 is noticeably tamer than its cinematic precursor. With the movie (which in the UK was given the highest age rating of 18) there was more freedom for adult content (particularly violence and swearing) and even though there’s definitely some to be found here, it has definitely been toned down.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing in principal, but the almost no-holds-barred nature of the film made it feel powerful and real. The TV series follow-up is still real in its own way but it’s less an exploration of racism, violence or fitting in (all the themes that the film dealt with) and more about catching up and spending time with this set of characters.
It’s only the first part of four and perhaps this just serves as a re-introduction to the world of This Is England, with the following three episodes turning things up. For the time being This Is England ’86 is worth watching but it seems rather timid next to the film it follows on from.
Part 2 of This Is England '86 will air in the UK on Tuesday, September 14.