Shane Meadows hit it bang on the head this Wednesday when he announced “UK telly’s gone to shit”, met by rapturous applause at London’s BFI – and the man has got a point. With the catalogue of dross put on our screens each and every night, you do wonder where we went wrong as a nation.
Thank the lord then that Shane has come to save our souls from the sheer filth scolding our eyes. No more ‘WAGS in Sweatshops’ or ‘The Boy With an Arse For An Elbow’, as Meadows is the embodiment of British directing talent. After giving us some classic cinema, the four part drama This is England ’86 is set to give your poor, poor telly the shot of adrenaline it so badly craves.
The curtain raises on the show in the summer of 1986, three years after the original ‘This is England’ film finished. There are three million people in the dole queue, the England football team are waiting for Maradona to break their hearts in Mexico, and Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) – the now not so little ginger lad from the film – is finishing school. Shaun is a loner again after the ferocious actions of Combo (Stephen Graham) saw his friendship with Woody (Joe Gilgun), Lol (Vicky McClure) and the rest of his former pals torn apart in the film’s spine-tingling finale.
Just like the movie, every last detail has come under the microscope to produce an authentic yet original vibe for this series, with everything from the clothes to the gravity defying barnets are spot on, as well as the best soundtrack you’ll hear all year.
But this is nothing new for Meadows, who after Ken Loach pretty much writes the book on seminal British cinema – A Room For Romeo Brass, Dead Man’s Shoes and of course This is England – all the brainchild of his own bleak experiences growing up, transformed into heart-wrenching mastery on the big screen.
As well as the original cast, Meadows has picked up some superb young talent on the production side in the shape of director Tom Harper (Misfits) and writer Jack Thorne (Skins, Shameless). This proves that though Shane may be the gritty realism king on the big screen, he’s not too proud to learn a thing or two on the small one from two up-and-comers that have put the ‘cult’ back into ‘youth culture’ on TV.
"No more ‘WAGS in Sweatshops’ or ‘The Boy With an Arse For An Elbow’, Meadows is the embodiment of British directing talent."
Whether or not you were around in the mid 80s, you can relate to each character and the situations they’ve been thrust into, especially when you consider the scene of recession, widespread unemployment, a crestfallen footballing nation - all under a Tory umbrella, sound familiar?
It’s not all doom and gloom mind, the first episode alone flits between the slapstick and the shit-scary within seconds, you’ll laugh hysterically one minute before being completely moved the next – I’m not ashamed to say a rather sizeable lump appeared in my throat at the most touching moments. But this is merely a measure of the man Meadows.
‘But why telly?’ you may ask, ‘why not make another film?’ Well you’re not alone, many have questioned Meadows’ motives for ditching the silver screen, with a great deal of snobbery attached to making anything for TV these days. But without putting words in his mouth, Shane’s simple response should be, to quote Kanye West ‘LET ME BE GREAT!’
Yes, Shane could’ve got a hefty budget to make This is England 2,enough to even rope in an expensive little shite like Justin Bieber to play Shaun and Colin Farrell as the ‘orrible bastard Combo. But any Shane Meadows fan will tell you that he thrives on unknown casts, unglamorous locations and shoestring budgets, then still creating the most profound pieces you’ll see from a British director.
I’ll admit it though, I too feared that a television series could be a marker for mediocrity, but I, as will the naysayers, ate my words with glee when I saw what’s in store. In fact, the series offers much more to the punters than if it was at the cinema, not just because Meadows is able to delve far deeper into the psyche of the key characters, unearthing all manner of home truths and dark secrets, but also in the fact that instead of one movie, the four episodes equate to two feature films. Bargain! (Who said the licence fee was a rip off?)
It’s been a long old time since something on the box has been ‘unmissable’ – unless you count Phil Mitchell on crack, purely for the comedy value – but This is England ’86 will blast away the cobwebs and, if only temporarily, make the 80s look fucking cool again, let’s just cross our fingers he fancies another go in a couple of years… This is England ’88 anyone?
Telly’s gone to shit? Enter Shane Meadows.
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