‘This Is England ‘88’: Episode 1 review

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In 2006, Shane Meadow’s This is England was a triumph. The film followed a group of brazen British skinheads in the early 1980s as they struggled with politics, romance, and friendship. A television spin-off set three years later was welcomed by fans, who were treated to Channel 4’s four-part This is England ’86 last autumn.

Now, the story continues in This is England ‘88.

As the title suggests, the latest spin-off series picks up two years after the terrible events of the first. It is December 23rd, and festive spirits are running low in Britain. Meadows again includes archive footage, which demonstrates the weighty difference between how England was, with a flurry of hollow Thatcher promises and commercialism, perceived to be, and the icy reality.

In the midst of the confusion is the old gang; fractured, but undeniably relatable. As we are reacquainted, it quickly becomes clear that should they be granted a Christmas wish, many of its members would opt for a simpler existence.

Scrape away the surface, and the lives of each character are far more complex than they first appear. While everyone else is down the pub for a swifty and sing-a-long, Lol and Trev spend their evening attempting to forget the man who destroyed their lives eighteen months before. Yet such a feat is implausible for Lol, who spots the abusive, perverted father she killed in defence everywhere.

Impregnated by Milky (Andrew Shim) after their affair in This is England ‘86, this opening episode sees her battle with both depression and parenthood. A lack of maternal instinct has made living with her daughter Lisa a daily drain. Lol’s emotional turmoil is expressed wonderfully by BAFTA winner Vicky McClure, who glimmers at every turn.

Meanwhile, Chorley-born Misfits star Joseph Gilgun continues to excel as the good natured Woody, who after a devastating betrayal has abandoned the gang. Boasting a swish job, a replacement girlfriend and a caring, supportive family, things seem to be looking up for the former leader.

But something about his shiny new life doesn’t quite ring true. He’s so desperate for a bit of friendly banter that he’s taken to hanging outside the social and peeking through the window, and his relationship with Jennifer looks set to dwindle.

And they’re not the only pair looking worse for wear. Long-term sweethearts Smell (Rosamund Hanson) and Shaun have misplaced their teenage charm, with the latter appearing increasingly disinterested. In a fantastic display of range by Thomas Turgoose, Shaun has begun to show signs of a desire to escape class constrictions. Now eighteen, he is studying drama at college, where a pretty, polite girl has caught his eye.

Like the preceding film and series, the reason for this instalment’s success is a faultless, bittersweet honesty. Thanks to the admirable scriptwriting prowess of Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne, the dialogue sounds gorgeously natural.

At once touching, harsh, and funny, the first episode of This is England ‘88 meets all expectations.

Aired at 10pm on Tuesday 13th December 2011 on Channel 4.

> Order the DVD on Amazon.

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