‘This is England ’90’ Episode 1 review: Shane Meadows’ gang return for a final hit

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It’s 1990.

The UK is dancing to the Madchester sound or alternatively holding lighters in the air to power ballads by female-fronted bands and Mrs. Thatcher has been ousted from 10 Downing Street by her own party – though the Poll Tax Riots in central London may have had something to do with that.

Just outside Nottingham in some unidentified estate it’s spring.

I’d like to describe the first episode of This Is England ‘90 as “the warm embrace felt when returning home”, but it’s more like “the first hit after a long time of abstinence” as we are watching Shane Meadows’ very raw, yet beautifully observed, depiction of the lives of Lol (Vicky McClure), Woody (Joseph Gilgun), Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), Smell (Rosamund Hanson), Kelly (Chanel Cresswell), Gadget (Andrew Ellis), Lisa (Lyra Mae Thomas), Harvey (Michael Socha) and Milky (Andrew Shim).

Over two years have passed since Lol attempted to take her own life, racked with the guilt of murdering her own father. As desolate as an event that was, it succeeds in peace between Woody and Milky while re-uniting the gang under a common cause.

This Is England '90 Chanel Cresswell as Kelly

The girls are now employed as dinner ladies in a local school (though good to notice Lol still wears her Fred Perry shirt even at work) while the boys remain unemployed, moneyless yet still capable of reaching that much needed high which they first sampled back in ‘83.

Shane Meadows’ clever understanding of his medium gives great clues that the This Is England story has moved on, from Gadget’s garishly fashionable “rave” outfit to Chrissy (Katherine Dow), Lol and Kelly’s mother’s female lover.

Shaun’s story, which we observed from the beginning, has matured though his craving to win back the heart of Smell stills seems as innocent as when they first met.

“I’ve moved on,” says Smell – though Shaun, from his weeping alone in a graveyard to his fight with her new boyfriend, shows he has not. Be it Turgoose’s hang dog expression or Meadows’ and Jack Thorne’s writing, we can’t help but route for Shaun and hopefully as the series concludes we’ll seem him re-united with Smell, who still seems to be his ideal mate.

This Is England '90

With Lol working, Woody seems more settled staying at home raising not only the child Milky fathered with Lol but now a child they had together. His friendship with Milky appears solid, with the only possible upset being his aged parents and his former boss, ever smiling yet ever in charge.

Jennifer (Stacey Sampson), Woody’s former girlfriend, is still on the scene bizarrely living with Woody’s parents and watching Lol and Woody’s kids. For Woody this constant portrayal of everything he doesn’t want out of life must gnaw at his own unrealized ambition and potential.

When we first met Shaun in the original This Is England film his dress sense was ridiculed in the opening scenes by Harvey, a fellow pupil who features in the This Is England ’90 story. Gadget (“Nobody looks forward to new potatoes”) and Harvey – or “The Cosa Nostra of the Estate”, as Flip (Perry Fitzpatrick) calls him – are now dealing drugs.

This Is England '90

Episode 1 was like the hit of a drug. Smacking you in the face, numbing your senses while making you grin constantly, from Flip’s seduction technique and complete lack of drug usage knowledge and to Woody’s perfect rendition of the opening bars of ‘Fool’s Gold’ – “Rink dink, ah rinky dink, ah rinky dunky dink, ah rinky dunky dink, ah dink dong.”

Backed by the best tunes from the era, it portrayed the exact opposite of Milky’s comment, “The good times will come again.” In all the episodes of This Is England we’ve seen, this was the saga at its most upbeat.

But This Is England ‘90 is a drug and the hit from this opening episode can’t last. Hints that Combo will soon be released cast no doubt on the coming downer.


Aired at 9pm on Sunday 13 September 2015 on Channel 4.

> Buy the original This is England movie on DVD on Amazon.

What did you think of the first episode? Let us know below…