Shane Meadows, the “Scorsese of the East Midlands”, has maybe made all the big-screen movies he will ever make. I hope this is not the case. It costs a lot of money to make a movie and despite the quality of his work it is hardly blockbuster material. He has continued a timeline established by Ken Loach (“Kes”, “Riff-Raff”) and Alan Clarke (“Scum”, “Rita, Sue and Bob Too”) by making entertaining films set in a recognisable England. The big money goes to Brit flicks about the foibles of former monarchs or the romantic comedies of posh London bastards. His “This Is England” saga will continue with “90” next year and he is working on a film about the Stone Roses. I will be watching them both.
“A Room For Romeo Brass” is so good, so funny and affecting that I missed “Match of the Day” to see it on TV. My brother, no indie film buff, asked me what I knew about Shane the next day…it’s that good.
We were on to Shane Meadows right from the start. His short films “Where’s The Money Ronnie ?” and “Small Time” were on late-night TV and we recorded them on no more than a hunch. A good call…here was a talent to be watched. His first cinema release “Twenty Four Seven” used Bob Hoskins and a cast of mostly unknown young actors to good effect. After Romeo Brass “Once Upon A Time In The Midlands” seemed a false step but subsequent viewings have not disappointed. Rhys Ifans, Shirley Henderson and Robert Carlyle are all good value. When Kathy Burke walks out of an argument saying “Sod this. I’m going to watch the Weakest Link !” it is a pure Meadows moment. Something I have heard said by real people in real families.
Next time up Meadows gave us the movie we all knew he could make.
If Shane is the English Scorsese then Paddy Considine is his De Niro. In Romeo Brass we saw his sociopathic variation on the theme of Johnny Boy.In the classic “Dead Man’s Shoes” he is an English Travis Bickle, an Avenging Angel knowing a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. The streets of a grimy Midland council estate where the drug dealers crowd into a battered 2CV. Meadows’ naturalism works to make this revenge thriller as effective as “Get Carter”, as taut as Hitchcock. I love the cartoon ultra-violence of “Kill Bill” but that ain’t real and it is not meant to be.
“Dead Man’s Shoes” is a morality tale for a 21st century Britain in which I live. Paddy Considine is immense, the script is tight. It is the milieu, the pubs, the houses and the streets in which the film is set which anchors it in a reality. When I lived in London we would meet our friends from the cheeky Cockney East End. We called these our “Lock, Stock” nights. “Dead Man’s Shoes” was where we lived every day. A brilliant film which ranks with any made in Britain in the last 50 years.
For “This Is England” Shane looked back to 1983 and made another film about a young boy. Skinheads had been around in the UK since 1969, the Two-Tone fashion of 1979 had revived the reggae/ska. boots and braces look but these youth fads do tend to have an extended sell-by-date in provincial Britain. The protagonist,12 year old Shaun, meets a gang who are not didactic skins having a flexible attitude to age and dress code. Missing his father, killed in the Falklands War, troubled at school, he is excited by their clothes, their humour and their acceptance. The scene where Shaun’s mother (Jo Hartley), worried about her son, goes to confront the leader Woody (Joseph Gilgun) and leaves assured that he will be OK is surprising, touching and human.
Of course this is Thatcher’s Britain with the spectre of unemployment and racism. The film has to get dark on us. The arrival of Combo (Stephen Graham), a veteran skin just out of jail, raises issues which threaten the solidarity of the friends. Shane Meadows deals with these issues more effectively and assuredly than purely making blunt political points and he is on the side of the good guys. The climactic scene was one very familiar to me. I have got high with idiots like this who want to be starting something. I could see it coming just as I had seen it in my life. I was impressed by the way Meadows had got the tone of the film so right.
“This Is England” has a great cast and a soundtrack to match. Shane’s subsequent films have been a bit cheap and cheerful with no budget. It is in the sequels to “This is England” where the quality is to be found. The film was not shown in our little town so we went to the nearest showing on its release. This was where some of the film was shot and the hometown of Thomas Turgoose, the young man who gives a terrific performance at the centre of the film. It seemed appropriate to be walking the same streets immediately after seeing such an English movie.