God, the 80’s were ugly, weren’t they? Well, they were if Shane Meadows’ This Is England ’86 is even close to accurate.
It’s pretty clear as this first episode kicks off that the viewer is expected to have watched the film This Is England which this series is almost a sequel to. Sadly, for those of us who hadn’t seen the film – me included – there wasn’t much of an attempt to introduce the characters and their backgrounds.
Initial expectations weren’t good. A grim northern drama with a cast who had been GBH’d by the ugly stick, set in a period that time and taste have been drinking to forget. I mean, 1986 in the UK wasn’t a pretty place to be, culturally. Was it?
For the record, in 1986 I was 10 and I remember the hideous window-pane glasses like Shaun’s mother wore, the doudy clothes. I remember shell-suit clad bullies who travelled in packs and intimidated the less lairy children. The situation where the lead bully forced Shaun to call ‘Sweet Tits Gemma’ a fat pig isn’t totally unrealistic – and kids like Shaun would have been doomed to a kicking whether they went along with the plan or not.
Though it takes a while, the characters soon begin to charm us. Not so much Shaun, who’s a bit of a charisma vacuum. But Woody and his Paul Weller haircut and Lol, who looks like she was styled in the vein of Sandi Toksvig. This pair, and their rowdy gang of friends, take the bus to a registry office to get married, but various obstacles get in the way, not least Woody’s cold feet. And Megs having a heart attack on the toilet. And Lol’s mother failing to show up.
The turning point for me was the whole wedding party hoisting Megs out of the cubicle, abandoning the wedding and sitting it out in the hospital until he was stabilized. We follow Shaun there too, who’s taken a few punches from the bully and cut himself on a lava lamp. He meets up with the weirdest looking of the gang – the girl with the ridiculous half-shaved head – and it’s clear there’s some history between Shaun and them. See what I mean about it being difficult for new viewers? People who saw the movie are rolling their eyes and preparing to write disparaging comments for me.
Strangely, aside from Shaun’s adventures after his exams, and the events at the wedding and the hospital, there’s not much else to report from this first episode. The show rather faithfully reproduces the sets, fashions, music and trends of the 80’s. Sodastreams get namechecked, and I spotted one of those rubbish beaded car seat covers along the way.
I’m sure I’m missing something in the hype that makes this an important series. It’s like an extra-grim retro episode of Coronation Street or something. But somewhere in there, there’s a nugget of hope that this series has some form of point to make. I’d hate to think it was an aimless four-part expose of working class in that era. (* Note – please leave a comment if you can offer insights!)
By the way, anyone for Vollyvents?