Not a Christmas Day goes by without at least a tiny mishap. The sort of seasonal issues most of us encounter – Granny gets lost, puss tears down the tinsel – are generally rather mild, but something usually happens. It’s traditional. But going by the frantic festive run-up the This is England lot had, it was inevitable that their December 25th took seasonal drama to a whole new level.
In the third and final instalment of Channel 4’s This is England ’88, which has seen the group struggle to cope with the distressing events of eighteen months before, emotions run high.
Throughout his career, director Shane Meadows has earned a respectable reputation for bringing out the best in the actors he works with. ’88 is certainly no exception; even casual characters such as Harvey (Michael Socha, fresh from his impressive turn as a young werewolf in Being Human) help to bring life to the narrative.
But this series, the stars by far are Vicky McClure and Joseph Gilgun, who play the tough but tormented Lol and charismatic, sensitive Woody respectively. The pair first took centre stage in This is England ‘86, when a silently suffering Lol, a series of failed marriage attempts, and a final betrayal drove them apart.
For McClure’s character, the panting, repulsive ghost of the father she killed in defence last series has finally defeated her. Her desperate failed suicide attempt gives Woody his final chance to rekindle their relationship – and Gilgun an opportunity to fully demonstrate the extent of his skill.
His breath-snatching reaction on hearing the news is astoundingly truthful; the later exchange between co-star McClure equally so. As one attempts to make jokes in the midst of a truly grim situation, drying his eyes on a ridiculous festive waistcoat, and the other, rendered inconsolable almost to the point of desentisation, gazes ahead, two young actors give the performances of their career.
Another fine performer who has benefited from the support of Meadows is Thomas Turgoose, whose young character Shaun was the newest addition to the gang and focus of the film. In the final instalment of ‘88, Shaun is in tatters; after discovering him with another girl, his long-term girlfriend Smell has left him.
Make no mistake; the work of Shane Meadows is the wrong place to look if you’re hoping for a sugary, rounded ending. The rejoining of Lol and Woody might be cockles-warming, but their situation remains in many ways less than cheery.
A final spin-off, which will revisit the group in 1990, is looking certain, meaning each character can be given a neater ending if necessary.
Yet any loose ends, such as the separation of Smell and Shaun, appear more as an element of a realistic insight than an excuse to continue shooting. And that’s the beauty of This is England; each character is so intriguing, their situations so believable, that it’s easy to imagine them slipping into real life.
With such a commendable third addition to the brilliant This is England story, it’s no surprise that far more than fistful of fans are rooting for a forth.
Aired at 10pm on Thursday 15th December 2011 on Channel 4.
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