Jarv’s Best of 2000-2009. Number 5: This is England

It’s hard for me to write objectively about this film, being as I recognise so much of it. It is, quite simply, my favourite British film of the last decade- and it’s got some stiff competition for that title.

Shane Meadows is one of Britain’s most accomplished writer/ directors. The man has never made a bad film (I’m not sure he knows how to). For this, and I think this will be looked back on as his masterpiece, he tapped into the miserable upbringing he endured on a grisly Uttoxeter council estate in the early 80’s. This is, through sheer coincidence, an England that’s making an unwelcome return  (we’re stuck in a big pointless war again, there’s massive youth unemployment and disaffection, race tension, the far right is on the rise, and the unions keep striking) , but as timely as Meadows’ film is, it isn’t mere coincidence that makes this so superb.

The year is 1983. England is, to put it mildly, a strange and unpleasant place. Rampant Thatcherism is laying waste to many towns in the North. The recession is at its peak, and unemployment is in the stratosphere. England is a sorry mess.

For 12 year old Shaun (debutant Thomas Turgoose), England is a nightmare. It certainly is not the “sceptered isle, this other Eden” that Shakespeare waxed lyrical over. It is frankly horrible. His father was shipped back from the Falklands in a body bag, his mother is permanently skint so he’s dressed in shabby out of date second-hand clothing, and as a result he’s a target for every bully in school. He’s got no friends, no prospects, no role model and no hope.

After a typically dreadful day, he blunders into a group of skinheads- lead by the charismatic Woody (a fine performance from Joe Gilgun) , a bored and disaffected group that spend their days smashing up empty council houses (as if you could tell the difference), drinking, and getting high while listening to records. The skinheads take him under their wing, shave his head and give him, in his own words, the best day of his life. These aren’t, and let’s be clear about this, racist kids. they are skinheads, but it’s a uniform that defines their group.

Things look up for Shaun, his life is improving, he’s got friends, everything is becoming better. Unfortunately, the gang is shattered by the arrival of the sociopathic Combo (a downright terrifying performance from Stephen Graham). He sees a younger, purer, version of himself in Shaun and indoctrinates him with vile National Front racist dogma and violence. It all (predictably) spirals out of control, resulting in a savage and probably fatal beating being dished out to the black gang member- Milky.

I’ve already mentioned the performances, which are uniformly excellent. Turgoose in particular manages to exude a touching innocence, despite his eventual descent into NF behaviour. The “paki-bashing” sequence in the shop in particular is horrifying. He becomes indoctrinated, not because he is actually racist, but because he’s desperate for some sort of identity and craves some justification for his father’s death. He believes in England because he has to- otherwise his father dying off the coast of Argentina was a pointless and futile gesture.

Aside from the performances, the direction in this film is spectacular. The opening in particular with a montage of news and cultural images from 1983 (Maggie is followed by Roland Rat) set to a ska soundtrack, defines the time in the most bitterly ironic terms. On one hand there’s the miners striking and causing untold misery, and on the other there is the massive cultural embarrassment of a damned unfunny puppet (catchphrase: “yeeeeaaaaaah!”) . It’s a clever mix of the kitsch and the miserable and I think probably the ideal introduction to 1980’s England.

This is England is a film that resonates with me personally. I grew up in a grim Northern town in the 1980’s. I was a good few years younger than Shaun is, but I do recognise the landscape and I was sufficiently news aware to  understand the misery of the Miner’s strike. I also remember the National Front on the march, and I can recall specific race related violence. I was too young to have a reasonable opinion about any of these things, and I am horribly middle class, but I do recognise the roving gangs of feral youths and I do understand Shaun’s loneliness and unhappiness.

This is, I believe, an important film. The fact is, at the end of the day, that the UK is a mongrel nation. We’ve had immigrants in and out of this country for millenia, and as a result there is no such thing as English “identity”. This dichotomy is clearly shown in this film in that the skinheads listen to Jamaican influenced Ska music while at the same time spout the most loathsome racist rhetoric. One of the defining features of “Englishness” in 21st century Britain is tolerance, racism does not sit well with us, and fascism is anathema to our cultural makeup (despite what the papers try to make out).

We may banter with Australians, argue with the Scots, tell jokes about the Irish, but we do not, and I can’t stress this enough, raid newsagents and beat up Asians because we’re bored. The BNP will never take power in this country, and for that I am thankful. This may be England for some, but it isn’t for me, and, as the sad finale shows, it isn’t for Shaun either.

This is England is an unforgettable film, it’s an important and depressing masterpiece that perfectly captures a moment in time when the country was in crisis. It’s a lesson we should learn, because if the powers that be don’t pay attention, this is where we are headed.

Next up, just because I haven’t wallowed in enough misery in this list, is Aronofsky’s soul-shattering Requiem for a Dream.

Until then,



As I’m now in the run up to the best film of the last decade- here’s a quick recap if you haven’t seen them-

Number 6: Eternal Sunshine of  the Spotless Mind

Number 7: The Descent

Number 8: Daisy

Number 9: WALL-E

Number 10: Tsotsi

Or the complete page with all of them and the regional list is here

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

87 responses to “Jarv’s Best of 2000-2009. Number 5: This is England”

  1. Jarv says :

    Best review I’ve written. I think.

    Enjoy- and Droid, hope you and the Missus see this.

  2. Droid says :

    What a fucking morning. Completely fucked. Lost my wallet on the way to work, had to trace my fucking steps all the way back dealing with delays and cancellations of the trains and got a fucking lightening bolt stroke of luck by actually locating said wallet at clapham junction station. Like a complete tit I’d dropped it immediately after going through the barriers. It’s because I was carrying a million and one fucking snow/cold relating things. So I blame this country. Which is a nice segway into this review…

    Before reading this, Jarv, can you confirm that it will not spoil the movie if I do so?

  3. Jarv says :

    Let me have a quick check- I haven’t really mentioned anything that isn’t fucking obvious.

    It’s not a plot heavy film.

  4. Jarv says :

    No. There’s nothing in it that you wouldn’t get from the Times review

  5. Droid says :

    Okay. Read it. Good review. I will have to see it. Sounds like a right kick in the nads though.

  6. Jarv says :

    It isn’t the happiest film ever made, no.

    It is a brilliant film, though.

  7. Droid says :

    The problem I have with these flicks is the initial act of pressing play. Once I do, I appreciate them even when they’re bleak as fuck like Nil By Mouth or Requiem. But I sit there and talk myself out of watching them, and I invariably end up watching some forgettable garbage.

    • just pillow talk says :

      I wouldn’t call it a bleak film in that at least our hero (the little kid) realizes that shit ain’t for him.

      • Jarv says :

        Sure he does- but he’s got nothing left and he’s got the guilt of some terrible things to deal with.

        It isn’t happy.

  8. Jarv says :

    I get like that- and it’s funny how they usually tend to be really good as well-

    The trailer for this film pretty much tells you what it will be like. Fucking trailers are terrible nowadays

  9. just pillow talk says :

    I thought it was a decent flick, but I think since you relate to it Jarv, it definitely elevates the material and the movie for you. I do have to agree that the Graham fellow gives a heck of a performance.

  10. Bartleby says :

    Great movie and great review Jarv. Have you seen Somerstown yet? I really dug that one too, although it’s certainly a lighter piece than this one. If I ever get my best of the year up, it’s on there.

    I’ve finally got the best foreign language films up. Here’s the link http://tiny.cc/jdTse

    Now off to finish the English language films. Unfortunately, I know there are some on that one that are gonna rile people up.

    • Jarv says :

      Cheers Jonah,

      I know this may not resonate with non UK citizens like it did with me, but it’s such a good film.

      Hilariously, through sheer coincidence I now live not to far from Somerstown itself. Meadows is stalking me through film!

      I saw the film in the cinema and it is nowhere near as bleak as this is England.

  11. Bartleby says :

    This one is definitely not as bleak as Nil By Mouth.

  12. Bartleby says :

    Droid, sucks to hear your wallet story. Awesome however, that you managed to actually find it. In America, it probably would have changed hands six times before you even returned to the scene.

    Shortly after high school I had an experience somewhat similar. My dad and I had gone to the movies at one of those chintzy ‘dollar theaters’ where they show second-run movies. If I remember correctly, the movie was ‘Event Horizon’ and it was the last show of the night there (or so I thought).

    So, about ten minutes down the road, I realize I don’t have my wallet, and we turn around to go back. When we got there, I thought I had run into some great luck, because the box office was still lit up, and the door was unlocked. The kid sweeping the floors told us to go on in, and find the theater we left it in.

    So as I approach the door, I realize there is a hell of alot of sound coming out of a presumably empty theater. When I walk in, the place is full again, and everyone is dressed up in their goth-slut finest and I’m thinking, “Thats it, Im screwed. I’ve walked into one of those twilight zone eps and Im about to be eaten.”

    There’s no movie playing, but everyone is clearly waiting for something to start, and they all have toilet paper and loaves of bread and all kinds of weird crap, like they were planning on surviving a snow storm in the theater.

    I’m dumbfounded, my dad is back at the entrance just staring at everyone. I push my way through to where we were seated and see some dude who is easily 350 lbs pulling a Jabba Hutt with the two girls next to him, who are sort of draped over him in the same way one would wear a towel. I see the wallet sitting just beyond his feet, and he doesn’t move. So, while mumbling excuse me, I have to reach around this guy who looks like Ethan Supplee from Butterfly Effect, and the hos he was wearing, and grab my wallet.

    On the way out, when I inquired what the hell was going on, the guy sweeping the floors informed that every saturday night they held screenings of Rocky Horror Picture Show after the last legit movie stopped playing. It just happened to be in the same theater.


  13. Droid says :

    That’s a funny story, Jonah. I’ve never seen RHPS but I’m aware of the freaks those screenings attract.

    I was just lucky I dropped it right at the barrier and that the bloke who found it was one who worked there. I’ve had everything stolen about 2 years ago. A week before christmas, my jacket with wallet, keys, phone. It was a major pain in the ass, especially since they got into my accounts. Had to claim the money back, which took yonks.

    • Jarv says :

      You really are a doofus.

      Losing your wallet twice in the space of three weeks?

      • Droid says :


        For those capable of reading and comprehension, I lost my wallet twice in the space of two years and three weeks.

      • Jarv says :


        I admit to not really paying attention due to sulking at them not shutting the school and the piss poor England squad announced for the 6N.

        Mea Culpa.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        where is your mind Jarv? You cited my slighting of Battle Royale over at my site, without reading the bit where I pointed all asian films were in their own article.

        It’s like Seasonal Affective Disorder has hit the internets. Our numbers–here, my place, and everywhere else,– are in the gutter.

      • Jarv says :

        Pah, so I did.

        Fuck knows what’s wrong with me today.

      • Droid says :

        Can you ask Fuck to fill me in on what it is then? I’d be interested in an explanation.

      • Jarv says :

        I think I’m just in a funk over them not shutting the school. There’s two reasons it should be shut- only one of them is snow related and I’m pissy about it so not paying proper attention to anything.

  14. Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

    Terrific review Jarv. This is the most diverse best of the decade list I’ve seen yet.

    • Jarv says :

      Cheers mate,

      The top 5 are all fairly bleak films to be honest.

      I like this list a lot- and think that it’s a fairly uncontroversial Top 10- there may be quibbles in it, but there’s nothing that you would say 100% shouldn’t be there.

    • Bartleby says :

      HOD, did you check out the foreign films list over at Cinematropolis yet? Was hoping to get some conversation going over there, but it’s sparse at the moment.

  15. Jarv says :

    Hehehehehe- I got google linked to best wines in the world or whatever the hell it is.

    For this review.

    I feel your middle class wine aficionado is going to be sorely disappointed if he follows it.

    • Bartleby says :

      that is funny…though it’s better than being linked for hardcore porn, which I believe also happened to you.

      I was google linked for my Changeling review for American history or something. Of course, it was the George C. Scott horror changeling, not the other one.

      • Jarv says :

        Could have been worse for them. Imagine if it had been for the bottom feeders list or a schlock review.

        At least this is a relatively high-brow selection.

      • Jarv says :

        I’ve also got no idea what it is as I can’t open it because my work filter catches “Alcohol and Tobacco”

  16. Jarv says :

    Has anyone got any more content going up today?

  17. Jarv says :


    I’m still trying to work out what our median average hits are and how we can get higher- short of posting endless pictures of Emma Stone.

    • Bartleby says :

      I may still be throwing it off, since I don’t come here under Echo. So, all my visits end up counting. However, Im not one of those searching (except for that time with Jarv is Miserable).

      A few things would be get a Twitter account. Im gonna go twitter and throw up a link to your article series here, Jarv.

      Also, go here and submit a request to join the LAMB(Large Association of Movie Blogs). It’s pretty easy and you can then submit articles to them and they will post the links, in addition to showing something everytime you post on the left side of the screen. You just have to put a link up to the LAMB. It will also allow you find other similar sites and trade urls.


    • Bartleby says :

      the most interesting part of tweeting is you see what others tweet, and it’s always amusing when you find Roger Ebert has tweeted: “Wow. Just Wow.”

      • Jarv says :

        Not for me, really.

        “Woke up. Took a shit”

      • Bartleby says :

        well, yes, but you don’t put that stuff on there. Obviously, you create a Werewolves on the Moon twitter account and then just tweet industry related stuff and your own articles. You can see my tweets on the side of Cinematropolis. For the most part, my bathroom life is left out of it.

  18. Droid says :

    Fuck twitter. Never been on a twitter site. Can’t bring myself to type it into the address bar.

  19. Droid says :

    Peoples Facebook status’ are annoying enough without that shit.

    • Jarv says :

      Not on facebook either. Anyone I want to speak to already knows where I am.

      • Droid says :

        Course they do. It’s one of three things… On your way to the pub, at the pub, passed out in the gutter halfway between the pub and your home.

      • Jarv says :


        My Beer compass is impeccable and I always make it home before passing out- possibly with the odd drunken impulse buy.

        Credit where it’s due.


      • Droid says :

        My mate (and old housemate) used to do that. He used to get absolutely annihilated and end up passing out in various random locations. Like the next door neighbours front lawn. I had to do early saturday morning scouting missions to locate him.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        Wow. That’s Robert Downey Jr. style, right there.

      • Droid says :

        He was a nightmare to share a flat with, but at the same time, the most consistently entertaining housemate I’ve had.

  20. Bartleby says :

    again, you make one for the site, not yourself… you needn’t ever have your identity out there.

  21. Jarv says :


    Me and droid will be neo-luddites and you technogeeks can do that stuff.

  22. Jarv says :

    It is a great film, Frank.

    Well worth a revisit

  23. koutchboom says :

    You know this movie is sort of like England’s version of City Of God. So far we’ve got India’s version, Italys Version and Mexico’s version.

    I wonder if there is a movie equivalent version for America. Sure there’s gotta be (I’m sure Conti could argue Mean Streets for this spot).

    Hmmmm gotta think.

  24. Jarv says :

    La Haine is the french version.

  25. koutchboom says :

    Yeah but I’m talking about in terms of kids growing up and dealing with gangs. I mean Sin Nombre isn’t that epic but its in the same vein. Plus they are all about the gritty realism.

    Lock Stock is just about style.

    • Droid says :

      If you’re talking about that then Romper Stomper is Australias version. Goodfellas is also about a kid growing up and dealing with a “gang”. Same concept, just the gang is the mafia.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah I’ve never seen Godfellas. Like I said Mean Streets could probably count, so I don’t think Godfellas is that far behind.

      • koutchboom says :

        I guess from what I know about Godfellas is that City of God is probably Brazils version of Godfellas and so forth.

      • Droid says :

        You’ve never seen Goodfellas? Bloody hell. Make that your next rental, mate.

      • Jarv says :

        Fuck me!

        Hand in your man card immediately. It will be returned when you’ve corrected this oversight.

      • koutchboom says :

        Like I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it, just I saw it before I was 10 so I don’t remember shit about.

  26. Jarv says :

    This isn’t a gang in the same sense as City of God- it’s more a group of feral youths.

    The NF are a political party. He’s also not born into it.

    If we go way back, then I’d suggest Brighton Rock.

  27. koutchboom says :

    I mean in terms of movies from this decade. Involving youths getting into a gang, and showing off the bad side of a city, and being an effective drama. City of God, Gommoarh, Sin Nombre, Slumdog Millionaire and This is England are the movies to see.

    • Jarv says :

      Suppose so- They’re all good films as well.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah this isn’t my “The Road and I am Legend are the same movie argument”.

        Just that all those movies have similar themes, tones and ideas about them and its interesting to see how many different countries they all came from.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yes that and they are all good films too.

  28. Jarv says :

    I think they’re all tonally very different- City of God is kinetic and vibrant, whereas TIE is more sedate.

    All about poverty and the effects of poverty though

    • koutchboom says :

      Yeah I’m just talking about the attempt of grittyness to all of them. I think style wise they are all different.

  29. koutchboom says :

    OH yeah too add to the wallet losing story. Well I haven’t ever lost my wallet outside of miss placing it in my own house. I once lost a packet of cigs I just bought before the movie. And it sucked because we had to wait for our ride after the movie with no smokes! We went straight back in and coulnd’t find them.

    Also I lost my house key once (it was Slither) and me and my buddy had been the only ones in the theater! I got to my car realized it had fallen off the key chain went back in and could not find it!

    • koutchboom says :

      But even since the key incident I ALWAYS check my pockets before leaving a theater, make sure I have everything.

      Last thing I lost I just got a new $20 PSP game, Rachet and Clank, pulled out the box and put it in the pocket in front of my seat (Airplane) but ended up just playing the game I already had in my PSP. GOT OFF the plane got home realized I left it in the pocket.

      Though I heard the kids behind me saying HE’S GOT RACHET AND CLANK! So I think one of those kids walked away with a free game the trip.

  30. ThereWolf says :

    That’s a superb review, Jarv.

    I’ve heard so many good things about this film I’ve almost been afraid to watch it for fear of being disappointed. But I know I won’t be. I, too, recognise much that takes place in This Is England.

    The time has come, I think, to get this ordered from play.com…

  31. Droid says :

    Just watched this. It’s a very good flick. The kid is terrific and the bloke that played Combo (is he a Guy Ritchie regular?) is brilliant. Pretty fucking bleak movie. But really good.

  32. jarv says :

    Glad you liked it- he’s not a Guy Richie regular, but he is in Lock Stock

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