I watched This is England ’88 on DVD this week. This is, of course, the third instalment that follows on from the original film and the previous TV mini series.
As with most of Shane Meadows’ work, it requires some emotional investment on the part of the viewer (Meadows’ more obvious comedy work requires a bit less, Le Donk and Once Upon a Time in the Midlands for instance). This is another challenging piece of TV. This time the violence is reduced but is replaced by some open engagement with the ongoing harm of the central characters’ pasts. This is not to say that the series is just bleak. Rather there is a real balance in this work as Meadows manages to integrate a kind of everyday form of comedy and warmth into the tragedy. One example is the scene in which the gang take a trip to watch Sean performing in a college play – he is studying drama. This, of course, provokes much hilarity amongst his friends. This is juxtaposed with Moments of turmoil. In some cases Meadows even uses comedy to cope with this turmoil.
I won’t describe the series in detail but on reflection this recent series diverges from a pattern in much of Meadows’ previous work. Quite a few of his films, and the previous tv series, are based around a disruptive character who enters into the relatively settled lives of others. This disruptive character brings uneasiness and disquiet, and sometimes fear. Sometimes this a returning figure from the past or a new arrival. But they share this disruptive force and, as a result, they unbalance what is there, creating a sense of fear and danger.
This is England ’88 follows a slightly different pattern in that it follows in the wake of the previous two instalments. It shows the aftermath. We get to see how the characters are affected. The result is that this produces insights about the characters that adds a new dimension to Meadows’ already analytical and illuminating work. It also then provides a sensitive personal engagement that you don’t often find in popular culture.
There is a moment where Lol and Combo laugh about a GCSE in sociology. But really this type of drama is thoroughly sociological in its depiction of private troubles as they are shaped by the broader context.