Thursday, November 02, 2006

Eighties Revival

The Eighties were a dark and confusing part of British history, the time when the British finally came to terms with the loss of Empire and moved into an understanding of its evils and how those issues affect British society and Britain’s global influence in modern times. The global economy and its pervasive force of change on society took hold, the Conservative government dominated the decade, huge social change was enforced by new policies previously unthought of by earlier administrations, the Falklands war, stock market crash and riots in Brixton and Toxteth made the British general public rethink their country, it was the decade when Britain was remade in the modern image that we see in present times.
For young people it was it was a time when tribal affiliations were borne out through fashion and music, the diversity of these tribes were massive and in modern times this diversity has been lost, the obvious fashion demarcations are gone. Punks, new mods, goths, old fashioned rockers and their modern metal counterparts, new romantics and in the latter reaches of the decade hip-hop kids all strolled the streets with their particular and peculiar fashions. In the early eighties one of the predominant tribes was the mods, this was their second incarnation since the first wave in the Sixties, in the late Seventies and early Eighties the younger brothers, sisters, sons and daughters of the first wave appropriated the music and clothing of earlier times and the scene was reborn. Filmmaker Shane Meadows was one of those young mods and this is the semi autobiographical territory of his latest film “This is England”.

12 year old Shaun is alienated from his schoolmates in his flares and old fashioned cardigan and is bullied at school and lost in thoughts of his much loved Father recently killed in the Falklands war. He meets a group of older boys who recognise his alienation, leader Woody takes an older brother role and takes him under his wing, the precocious Shaun is soon adopting the fashions of his older friends with shaven head, drainpipe jeans rolled above Doc Martens and a Ben Sherman shirt set of by a thick pair of braces. He enjoys some knockabout fun with his new friends and life becomes happier but then a face from Woody’s past reappears to upset the comfortable life of the gang. This older friend of Woody’s has been recently released after 3 years in prison and is armed with the rhetoric and violent habits of newfound National Front inspired ideas. Woody removes himself from the influence of his old friend but Shaun changes his allegiance to this older, charismatic father figure and becomes involved in casual crime and violence. His new older friend sees the pain Shaun feels at the loss of his father and empathises having suffered a younger life without his own father, he sees himself reflected in the younger Shaun. Shaun still has great affection for his old friends, including Milky the only black member of his gang. The issues that arise from this uneasy balance of the lazy racism of his new friends and the friendship he wishes to maintain with Milky and his non NF friends becomes harder to reconcile and events unfold which make Shaun and others face the consequences of their shaky beliefs.
This is a very enjoyable film and the fashions, music and historical background very well observed, I occasionally thought a little too well observed but its authenticity is stronger than many other representations of the time. For anyone in their 30’s or 40’s this is a real nostalgia trip especially the opening montage of film footage.

Some critics recognise this as Meadows most accomplished film and alongside his other films “This is England” should augment his reputation as a one of the best cinematic chroniclers of late 20th Century Britain, he observes the country in ways that most other British film makers either will not or cannot and all with humour, lightness, darkness and depth in equal measure.

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