Traditionally in This Is England, the latter half of the middle act is usually the most emotionally charged and the most challenging to watch.
In ’83 it was the visit to the far right wing meeting when we realized young Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) was being force-fed a belligerent diatribe. It also showed us the unpredictability of Combo’s (Stephen Graham) moods when he violently reacted to one of the boys questions, “You don’t believe all that shite do you?”
In ’86 it was the horrific rape of Trev (Danielle Watson) by the father of Lol (Vicky McClure) and Kelly (Chanel Cresswell).
In ’88 it was Lol’s increasing isolation and depression.
The latter half of the middle act dramatically sets us up for the climax to the story: Milky’s (Andrew Shim) attack by Combo in ‘83, Lol’s confrontation with her father which lead to murder in ’86 and Lol’s suicide attempt in ’88.
This Is England ’90 follows the same dramatic pattern and in this third episode we can see the elements coming together that will lead to our final days with the gang.
“The past does matter, it shapes the future if we face it,” says Combo during his early parole hearing and it’s a theme running throughout this excellent episode.
In This Is England ’90 we are treated to most emotional and beautifully acted scene as the past, present and future are defined. The second part of the episode is one continuous scene at Woody (Joe Gilgun) and Lol’s place as they cook for their closest friends. It took a minute or two before I realised the woman praying in chapel and sitting at the dinner table was the nurse Lol confided in during her darkest days.
During the scene the secrets Lol and Woody have been carrying, shared with us, for the last two years are revealed and in revealing the secrets we are reminded of the darkest moments in these young lives that also have been shared with we viewers.
It was heart-wrenching to see Lol confess to the murder of her father, upsetting to see Kelly’s reaction as she denied her father’s true nature and genuinely distressing to watch their mother, Chrissy (Katherine Dow) weep as she admitted knowing Lol was being abused but did nothing about it. Powerfully delivered by three phenomenal actresses.
Lol’s reason for the confession is the imminent release of Combo from prison serving time for the manslaughter of Lol’s father, a crime he is innocent of but a fall he took for Lol. Lol and Woody’s good nature needs to return this massive favour so to decide to offer him a room at their.
“Without him we wouldn’t have any of this.” Woody says correctly. It’s an arrangement Milky is against. “He smashed my head into a concrete wall” weeps Milky, “he’s a racist thug.”
The past has returned and it is redefining the future relationships between these people. Even young Shaun, who says very little during the entire scene, weeps. Played out around the table it’s one of the best 13 minutes of television I’ve seen this year, in many years, and I applaud the cast and the writers for it.
The darkness we knew was coming has arrived, bursting forth in the form of history lesson on This Is England’s storyline. Gone was the hilarity of Flip, absent from this episode, but something that had kept the story light in episodes 1 and 2. If the episode did have any upbeats they centered around Shaun who discovered he was born in Scotland – “Explains why I’m ginger.” – as he and his mother drove to a reunion of his late father’s friends, again reminding us of where Shaun was when we first met him and how that event is shaping his future.
Shaun comes home to find out he’s been accepted onto a Photography course and not for the first time I ponder how biographical Shaun’s story is to Shane Meadows own life story. I’m hoping the college he attends will bring him back into contact with Smell (Rosamund Hanson) and he’ll have his happy ending. We started this journey with Shaun, our hero, and we should finish this journey with him.
I fear however the happy endings will not be extended to other characters.
Kelly upset with hearing the truth about her father’s death is now estranged from her sister and mother. “I can’t help her, I don’t know how.” Gadget (Andrew Ellis) tells Harvey (Perry Fitzpatrick) who’s flat Kelly has moved into occasionally sneaking off to the bathroom to smoke heroin, is it a life choice or, as I suspect, Kelly was also abused by her father?
Woody and Lol, so possessed by doing the right thing for Combo may find themselves in the middle of the revenge attack Milky is planning – “Not tonight, but it is going to happen.”- and of all the characters Woody and Lol are the two I would hate see suffer at all wishing they have a happy ending.
The past is indeed shaping the future and the groundwork for the very last episode of the seven-year story that has been This Is England has been laid. Like the era this story begins in, the crash is coming. We know this to be true.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 27 September 2015 on Channel 4.
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