Skip to content

Blogvent – Day 2

02/12/2010

My TV Highlight of 2010 Number 1: This Is England ’86

Just when I thought the days of quality TV drama were over, the likes of The Sopranos and The Wire seemingly banished into history to be replaced by shallow, facile, trying-to-be-too-clever-for-its-own-good rubbish like Lost, along came Shane Meadows with his follow up to his 2006, semi-autobiographical film This Is England.

Reuniting the original cast of the film and set three years later it returns to the lives of Shaun and his friends in a four part mini-series format. As a big fan of Shane Meadows the concept alone was enough to get me excited, but little did I realise it would turn out to be one of the bravest and most confrontational pieces of TV programming I have seen in a long time, perhaps even ever. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading this now, go and buy the DVD and set about it. There are spoilers up ahead that will diminish your enjoyment of the show if you then go on to watch it. Seriously. You owe it to yourself.

Something you can always rely on with Meadows is the vivid way in which he portrays characters. Richly drawn, complex and subtle, his portrayal of people (and his characters invariably feel like people rather than creations) as they go about their lives carries an authenticity that is rare, especially from a TV drama. In fact the extra running time he has to play with here pays dividends. Back stories and sub plots unwind gradually. People we think we know surprise us with hidden depths and agendas. He has the time to establish the realism that binds it all together and that is essential to allow him to exert his power over us, the audience.

This is not the only trick Mr Meadows has up his sleeve. The first two episodes are bristling with warmth and humour, the more serious events such as Lol’s aborted wedding and subsequent affair, being offset by genuinely funny antics and banter from the rest of the gang. Particular highlights include every moment would be bully and biker wannabe Flip is on screen, Woody’s general bumbling, Trudy’s borderline psychotic affections for Gadget – the list is massive. Much like life even the tragic moments are softened with humour and there is frequently a funny side. As it turns out though this is just to soften us up for the kill.

Unlike the film, ’86 is focused more on Lol than Shaun and her relationships with her friends and family. Her biggest challenge takes the form of her estranged father returning to the family home after walking out on them all some time previously. His reasons for this are initially unclear, but his reappearance on the scene has a profound effect on Lol. Her relationship with Woody begins to deteriorate. She has an affair with Milky. She seems out of control. We discover that her father left home because she accused him of raping her, something he strenuously denies.

So it is then that in episode three the mood sours significantly. In what is possibly the most visceral moment of television I have ever experienced we are made to bear witness to the horrific rape of one of Lol’s friends who is unfortunate to find herself alone with her dad when she calls round to see Lol. Thanks largely to a phenomenal performance by Johnny Harris, who seems at times to be channelling Paddy Considine in Dead Mans Shoes, this unpleasant scene is heavy with quiet menace. There is little violence, although the threat of violence is palpable. The pervasive realism that led to so much laughter in the earlier episodes manifests itself here as a churning in the pit of the stomach. I’ve seen some unpleasant films in my time, including Korean “torture porn” so extreme its banned in its country of origin, but I have never felt so physically affected by a sequence in any film or TV programme. It’s the realism. It’s the fact you can see it coming from the outset but it builds slowly, each passing second feeling like an age. You want to scream at the TV.

There is no more jolly fun to be had. The fourth episode culminates in a confrontation between Lol and Mick. After discovering what he has done she decides to face him, hammer in hand, to deal with him once and for all. It doesn’t go according to plan and her attempt to stand up to him enrages him. This time there is no threat of violence, just the raging violence itself, Mick unleashing the self loathing and hatred he clearly feels on his daughter as he attempts to rape her. Thankfully Lol regains the hammer in the nick of time. We cheer, delighted that “justice has been done”, pleased this young girl has thrown everything away by smashing in his head with a hammer (of course she hasn’t, thanks to Combo, but she doesn’t know this yet). It left me drained and feeling a little bit violated. It left me ambivalent about my own response to Lol’s course of action. Most of all it left me staggered that a TV channel had the brass balls to broadcast this on television.

Reading this you might think that it doesn’t sound particularly entertaining. If by entertaining you mean lightweight and throwaway then no, it clearly isn’t. If, however, like me you believe that enertaining can mean thought provoking and challenging then it most certainly is. I can’t think of a single thing I’ve ever watched on TV (or elsewhere for that matter) that had the same emotional and physical impact as This Is England ’86. It has been for me, without a doubt,  the best thing on television in 2010 and I suspect it will be a long time before it is bettered. Never mind awards, Shane Meadows should be given a medal for having the vision and the nerve to make this. Roll on This Is England ’90.

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: