Updated: May 10
Shane Meadows: This is England and others
My short coverage reviews of some of Shane’s work and how it compares
There was This is England. A largely average movie with an oft-lamented terrible “we’ve run out of time and film” ending, a couple of even less-than-average TV spin-offs, but then came the nineties version and up it went.
That said, whilst we all know the superior excellence that is Dead Man’s Shoes, little homage is paid to, in my mind, his best work; A Room for Romeo Brass. Indeed, you google search "Paddy Considine in images, I got through three pages and scores of hundreds of images. None were of this movie, which is a travesty. So that is where I begin:
A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS
This is a woefully underrated, gritty Northern fable. It wins hands down the award for the most misleading trailer ever. If you believed, as I did, what you saw on your VHS copy of something or other, back when that happened with films, this was a heart-warming Full Monty-esque feel-good Brit-flick about a loveable goof and a family fighting back and coming together. Wrong. Not a bit of it. The ever-wonderful Paddy Considine in his first full-length role (words fail me to describe how impressive his performance is considering that fact) plays that character that every working-class kid in England knew, the local oddball. Older, often with military pretensions, comfortable with younger kids with whom he can establish himself as the alpha. They would have oft-repeated strong opinions, no friends, and often, physical strength to boot. I recall a few of these types growing up, and Paddy plays it to a tee. The absurd conspiracy theories and the not being embarrassed to explain them to adults. His crappy van, and his polar moods. He starts of as something of a harmless prat. He evolves
The two kids, Romeo and Gavin, fall out over Morell (Considine) who secretly threatens the handicapped Gavin, frightening him. A scene of exact life is the part where in front of Gavin’s mother, Morell regresses to a kid. His swagger goes. Showing his immaturity as he mumbles, kicks his heels and gives monosyllabic grunts. Just terrific debut showing here.
Frank Harper is…. Frank Harper! He plays Romeo’s estranged father. A man trying to do right. James Higgins is Gavin’s feeble, half-arsed, witless, yet good-hearted Dad. The end is one of the most engaging scenes I have ever seen. You truly root as Frank Harper goes into the garden. If you like Shane Meadows, you will love this. Give it your time. It is a solid investment.
THIS IS ENGLAND ‘90
As alluded to, the movie was good. Solid performance from rising British talent. Endearing lad Woody, his adorable saving of little Sean, Lol , Gadget, and Milky, as well as Stephen Graham’s sinister Combo, made for a great little flick that was let down by its ending, as well as the fact that not a lot happened. The script is always solid and plausible. His mother and Sean in the shoe shop; a perfect depiction of such a dynamic. It deserves a pat on the head. This is England ’86 and ’88 gave us further storyline with not enough real entertainment to justify it. This made This is England ’90 very unappealing but was one of those things you just knew you would watch.
How wrong one can be. It is a lesson in filmmaking and how to make something powerful. I vote the dinner table scene the best UK TV drama scene ever made.
We had already seen the ecstasy-led aborted rave/traveller party scene with Sean still being picked on by the absurd but hilarious Flip, and Kelly starting down the dark path of addiction. A little drawn-out, but impressive, it uses Meadows' favourite tool; the montage. It is clever, the parallel between the still hedonistic Harvey, the confused Shaun, the tragic Gadget, and the self-destructive Kelly who all go to a rave, and then the domesticated, but still fun-loving Milky, Woody, Lol etc having a barbecue and a chart-music bop in the front garden, defining the changes that your cultural and domestic leanings can make to your lifestyle and social circle as you grow into adulthood.
There is the amusing case of Woody’s magnanimous-but-presumptuous ex deciding she will be the bridesmaid at his and Lol’s wedding: What is so great about Meadow’s is that most British shows and movies would continue it as a cringe-factor, something I detest, but Shane has Lol put her foot down and the ensuing cascade is dealt with using script and dialogue expertise and character-led behaviour in fitting with the individuals, so in short, everything a good screenplay should be, whilst being hilarious and not relying on that most vile of tropes; the “they-are-so-annoying-but-no-one-says-a-thing” that is basically the entire synopsis of things like Back (David Mitchell and Robert Webb’s Shark-Jumping,)
These are all superb. However, this is about one moment. The scene is as follows: They are telling Lol’s sister Kelly, now very troubled and spiraling into heroin addiction, that her father, whom she believed an angel and brutally killed by Combo (Stephen Graham), who is about to be released from jail, was actually an incestuous and violent rapist who possibly raped and beat his own daughter many times, definitely raped family friend Trev and that it was in fact Lol, herself, that killed him during an attempted rape and Combo took the blame due to his feelings for her and guilty conscience.
Without writing the entire script it is very difficult to highlight. Straightaway, when Woody (Joe Gilgun) is asked whether the surprise is good news (Kelly predicts it is that they are having a baby), and he says “no”; it is just dynamite. Not only the script, but the acting, the interaction, and the exposition. A true masterclass and a framing of magnificence that if the world ever ended, should be buried safe for future species to wonder at.
It develops more to be where Milky (Andrew Shim) is told that Combo is to be living with Lol and Woody. Combo previously racially assaulted Milky with such severity he almost died. They say he must be forgiven after what he did for them, but Milky refuses and demands his son (which he shares with Lol) live with him as he will not allow him to reside with a racist thug like Combo. They later meet to resolve the past. Milky is far from reticent.
The story goes on and a lot happens. The rest of the serial absolutely dwarves the other two spin-offs that were just far too bleak (all aside the hilarious Flip and his preposterous character traits). This is though, a tribute to the one scene. It is in the Autumn section. The whole thing is worth a watch, but that scene is worth a whole lot more.