Review: This Is England ’88

By Jack Deacon

Royalties will be covering the price of the Smiths’ Christmas presents this year – first John Lewis’ Christmas advert featured a rendition of Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, and now their songs have been used as the soundtrack to one of the best dramas of the year.

BIFF 2007 Final Day - 'This Is England' cast

Photo used under creative commons by Nat. Media Museum


The band may have split up a year before 1988, the year in which the latest instalment of This Is England is set, but the heartache, political standing and representation of ordinary folk in the Smiths’ songs fits the bill.

The authenticity is outstanding and the cast have been quick to accredit this to director Shane Meadows, who always seems capable of combining beauty, poignancy and gritty realism.

He filmed the semi-autobiographical series with digital cameras; recording rehearsals in case a moment of brilliance occurred that couldn’t be replicated. Improvisation was encouraged and Vicky McClure was exiled from the rest of the gang so that she would seem suitably estranged in her role as Lol, Woody’s ex-girlfriend.

Joe Gilgun exemplified how deep the cast got into the mind-set of their characters when he nearly broke down while talking to channel4.com about his character Woody.

He went on to say: “I have never, and will never, work with anybody like Shane again. I know it’s a very media thing to say that people are geniuses but he fucking is – and I am swearing for that – he is a fucking genius.”

Woody spends the first two episodes with his new girlfriend, a complete opposite to Lol, and he’s frequently unsettled by her bonding with his parents. He’s clearly out of his comfort zone in the presence of his parents or boss, Mr. Squires, and he steals many a scene with his constant sarcasm.

It’s evident that he belongs with Lol, who has problems of her own. Her abusive dad, who made This Is England ’86 unwatchable at times, may be dead but he still haunts her in hallucinations, telling her that he’ll “always be here”.

As if that’s not enough to be dealing with, she also has to bring up a baby alone and live with the knowledge that one of her best friends is serving time in jail for her crime (Combo selflessly took the blame for the killing of her dad). She tries to kill herself by taking an overdose but she’s saved by the doctors and the prayers of a caring Irish nurse.

The suicide attempt ends up bringing the gang back together: Woody rushes to the hospital under the impression that she’s dead, makes amends for a fight he had the night before, and then goes downstairs to be reunited with the very-much-alive Lol, who’s having a fag break.

In a sideshow to the Woody-Lol narrative, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) destroys his long-term relationship with Smell through three fateful actions: refusing to have sex with her; wanking in the toilet; and getting into bed with a pretty girl from the play he performed in.

Though one day it’ll reach a conclusion, we’ve now got This Is England ’90 to look forward to and Shane Meadows’ project shows no signs of faltering.

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