Drawing on memories of a specific place and time—England in the early '80s—writer-director Shane Meadows nails the look and feel of a shabby provincial town, its restless youth, and the tribes they form. Though fewer than 300 British lives were lost in the Falklands War, the whole world is taken from a boy named Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), whose father died in battle. Our pudgy little Shaun of the dead comes to life on contact with Woody (Joe Gilgun), the charismatic leader of a local skinhead crew whose leadership comes under attack by Combo (Stephen Graham), a skinhead of a different stripe—the kind that twists into a swastika. Meadows re-creates skinhead subculture with equal care for its accoutrements—shaved heads, ska records—and origins as a youth movement based on working-class solidarity, not race hatred. This Is England goes on to examine the psychology of fascism from two angles, at two stages of its development. The story of Shaun is a cautionary tale about the susceptibility of needy young men to the rigors of far-right ideology. Combo is a case study in the inevitable result: social and psychic violence. Meadows undermines this theme by reducing it all to daddy issues. Facile pop psychology is the real tragedy here, a double disappointment given the film's smart take on pop culture.
Turgoose grows up in a hurry.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., Sept. 7–Thurs., Sept. 13. Rated R. 102 minutes.