‘This Is England ‘88’: Episode 2 review

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It’s day two of a 72 hour snapshot into the lives of a former band of skinheads, and we already have plenty to write home about. So much, in fact, that some characters are too distracted to notice the date.

For desperate single mother Lol, December 24th, 1988 is the day she realises she might well be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Vicky McClure steals the show once again as the haunted young woman who in this episode visits first the kindly nurse, then the only individual who might persuade her to smile.

Throughout This is England, Stephen Graham has given a consistently impressive performance as Combo. Initially appearing as a repulsive, unforgiving nationalist, his character has undergone an astounding transformation. He finally redeemed himself at the close of This is England ‘86, making him an unlikely confidant for Lol. The delicate exchange between the two in this episode is absolutely devastating.

Meanwhile, tottering dangerously close to a dull promotion, Woody spends Christmas Eve struggling to repress his free-spirited former self, who continues to insist that all this straight-laced suburbia nonsense is becoming a bit sickly.

Elsewhere, the two year relationship of Shaun and Smell comes to an abrupt, solemn end. No longer able to resist the allure of classmate Fay (Charlotte Tyree), Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) begins an adolescent affair – only to be rumbled by his girlfriend. The scene in which lovable wally Smell (Rosamund Hanson) catches her lover enjoying some alone time is certainly humorous, but their parting packs some serious impact.

As is the problem with many a teenage pairing, it seems Shaun isn’t certain of what he’s got until she’s waltzing straight out of the door, luminescent noggin held high. But, as his pitiful protests by the end of the episode signify, his problems run a little deeper.

Though his quest to break out was intentional, Shaun is, like Woody, quickly discovering the perils of a drastic change in lifestyle. Even his friends, who note sarcastically that they’re ‘not posh enough for Shaun’, are noticing the difference.

One brilliant scene is particularly telling. While Woody considers the terrifying prospect of spending forthcoming Christmas Eves with a work colleague, and Shaun, who still looks every bit the nervy schoolboy, performs in a college play, the rest of the gang are getting illegally merry in the back row.

This stunning section, which reintroduces a frequent inclusion of beautiful pieces by Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi, is another shining demonstration of Meadows’ skill.

Growing up might be hard to do, but a relentless influx of coming-of-age tales means it can often be too easy to portray. Yet this talented director is trying something bold – after building a vibrant picture of an unbreakable group, he allows them to grow apart.

Aired at 10pm on Wednesday 14th December 2011 on Channel 4.

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