‘This is England ’90’ Episode 2 review: A depiction of a pure and very real love

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If you found a Now That’s What I Call 1990 album in a petrol station’s bargain bin, there would be some pretty memorable music on it.

From the Mondays asking you to ‘Step On’ to Sinead O’Connor’s teary-eyed stare comparing you to nothing: the year would “rock”.

Music has always played a large part in the This Is England story; not only the heart-wrenching solo piano audio cues or thumping beats accompanying a bonding scene, but as an identity the characters and writers themselves explore.

Notably absent from this week’s episode, set during the summer of 1990, was a massive track which sold millions of 7” vinyl singles. The non-appearance of New Order’s ‘World in Motion’, in fact the complete absence of England’s World Cup bid in 1990 (England’s Mexico ’86 campaign was the back drop behind This Is England ’86), places the events in late July or early August, post defeat by Germany in the quarter-finals.

Opening with rave scenes of wide-eyed youths throwing shapes into rising suns, day-glo paint, day-glo faces, day-glo gloves and that iconic smiley on a t-shirt, it was a summer of love but the adoration was chemically induced and ultimately false.

This Is England '90 2

While This is England has always surprised me and never let me down, this episode took my expectations and once again candy- flipped them. Credit again to Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne’s writing as two parallel stories used not the day-glo rave “choons” we anticipated but a Northern Soul track and even more retro tribal melody for this episode’s cast-hugging session.

Since Woody and Shaun first slow-mo’ed towards the camera as skinheads to ‘Louie Louie’ to the town hall disco, This is England enjoys prolonged sequences of the cast connecting while music guides our emotions.

We’ve come so far that Lol and Woody’s dancing is around a barbeque, holding babies (though I question the use of graphics during it unless it signified they’d induced something?) while Shaun and the other younger cast members visited… a traveller’s camp – not “A rave up!” as Flip described it.

Earthier, far more feral and again rendered in This is England’s stark yet beautiful style, Shaun describes it as “special here. It’s so different from anything else.” It certainly was for young Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) as we ambiguously guess if his tryst with an older woman occurred?

This Is England '90 2

Kelly (Chanel Cresswell) featured heavily as she ricocheted from meaningless liaisons to emotion numbing highs. “She’s just struggling a bit at the moment,” says Chrissy, her mother. “Struggling with what?” asks Lol.

As viewers we have our suspicions, perhaps even resenting Lol for not seeing what is apparent and by the episode’s end we had confirmation. The spectre of her murdered father has risen again and the final two shots of Kelly and Combo (Stephen Graham) signposts complications between these two characters to come.

As Combo is to be released, Woody (Joe Gilgun) and Lol (Vicky McClure) agree to have him stay at their place and Gilgun shines again by simply lying on his back and acting with his eyes. The prolonged close up of Woody as he stares at a blank ceiling but sees only a mess ahead is worthy. In the last shot of Milky (Andrew Shim) that we saw he was asleep on Woody and Lol’s couch. It begs the question; where Combo will sleep?

This Is England '90 2

These characters living outside of Nottingham twenty-five years ago may seem distant to you and I as we now communicate but their depiction generates a universal emotion we all tap into, understand and empathise with as we watch.

Flipping my musical expectations wasn’t enough and the final scenes of the episode showed another unexpected side of England as Gadget (Andrew Ellis) and Kelly embrace amidst a green and pleasant land. Proof that the episode’s theme of implied expectations then subverted could be the witnessing of the two sides of Kelly and Gadget’s relationship.

He adores her, she hates herself.

Unlike the false love that exploded amongst youth culture that summer, here was a depiction of love at its most pure and real.


Aired at 9pm on Sunday 20 September 2015 on Channel 4.

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

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know below…