5) This Is England
The reputation of the contemporary British skinheads means that we can’t help but initially look at Woody’s gang in This Is England (above) with contempt and a sense of intimidation. They’re scruffy, they’re scowly, and they’re sweary. To walk past such a group would make you feel uneasy. But British director Shane Meadows remembers another time. A time when skinhead weren’t automatically looked upon with scorn for being scruffy, scowly and sweary, but rather as being laid-back, level-headed, and legitimately good-natured despite their blue vocabularies.
This Is England – set in 1983 – shows this period of time; reminding us how being a skinhead was just a “look” among many in the tribal era of eighties Britain, without carrying the right-wing connotations it does in the modern day. Meadows’ movie shows us the working-class, welcoming nature of the skinheads, and also the point at which this diverse, benign culture eventually shifted into a poster picture for racism and neo-Nazi ideology.
Young Yorkshire boy Shaun encounters the skinhead gang after a particularly difficult day at school, and led by the friendly Woody, the gang decide to take Shaun in under their wing. The gang stroll about the decaying streets of Thatcher’s Britain, passing the time in cheap cafes and smoke-filled houses as walls crumble and paint flakes all around them. It’s only when an old gang member Combo (played by the irrepressibly capable Stephen Graham) is released from jail that trouble flares up, with the returning friend spouting off his new-found idea that immigrants are to be blamed for the poverty in northern Britain.
Underlined by a gorgeous score that sends shivers trickling down your spine, This Is England will forever be associated with great British cinema in its ability to capture a crux of colourful characters at a specific moment in time, and make you care about them more than you ever thought you possibly could.