A study: This is England


This Is England (Meadows, 2006) is the story of a group of British teenagers over the course of a school summer school holiday. The story centres on young skinheads in England in 1983, in particular, following twelve-year-old Shaun, an isolated boy growing up in a grim coastal town, whose father has died fighting in the Falklands War. 

Over the course of the summer holiday, he finds male role models when the local skinhead scene take him in.  With his new friends, Shaun discovers a world of parties, first love and the joys of Dr Marten boots. He meets Combo, an older, racist skinhead who has recently got out of prison. As Combo’s gang harass the local ethnic minorities, the course is set for a rite of passage that will hurl Shaun from innocence to experience. The film illustrates how the skinhead subculture, which has its roots in 1960s West Indian culture, especially ska, soul, and reggae music, became adopted by white nationalists, which led to divisions within the skinhead scene.

Learning Objective: 
to analyse the opening of This Is England

Success Criteria:
- deconstruct the opening of This Is England (AO1)
- consider the identity of England represented in the opening (AO2)
- explore characterisation and narrative (AO2)

Setting the Scene
Watch the opening title sequence of This Is England
Watch the opening again, noting down the meaning created. Remember your learning from AS: camera shots/angles/movement, sound, editing and mise-en-scene. 
Share ideas. 
- what identity is being represented of England?

Narrative Perspective
In order to cast the character of Shaun, Shane Meadows held many auditions with children in inner-city workshops all over the country. Invites to casting sessions were given out at holiday camps around the east coast, particularly Grimsby. It was at The Space Project, a scheme run for disadvantaged kids, many of whom have been excluded from school, that they found the quality they had been searching for: a canny combination of innocence and hardness that set these children apart. 

Shaun’s position as the lead character means that the narrative is tied to his perspective and we understand things from his point of view. 

Watch the first scenes of Shaun 
that show him in his bedroom in the house he shares with his mum. Significantly in this sequence we see a photograph of his father, and this relationship is key to the motivations of the character. 
 what are your first impressions of Shaun?
 do you like him? Why? Why not?

Learning Objective: 
to analyse the narrative of This Is England

Success Criteria:
- deconstruct the narrative of This Is England (AO1)
- consider the identity of England represented in the characters (AO2)
- explore characterisation and narrative (AO2)

The Gang
Shaun’s last day at school provides an insight into the isolation that is a part of Shaun’s life. As Shaun walks home he meets Woody and his gang. Woody is the unofficial boss-man of the skinheads, who befriends Shaun after he has been bullied for wearing flares on 'mufti' day. 

Shaun is made to feel welcomed and his problems with the boys at school begin to disappear as Woody makes light of them and encourages Shaun to laugh at the situation. There is a power struggle between Tubbs, Pukey and Shaun for Woody’s attention. Milky is the only black character in this film that deconstructs racist attitudes. 

The group dynamic in the film helps to progress the narrative, the groups combine a number of influences, and the tensions in the group remain visible as the film progresses.

Watch the scene where the gang meet Shaun:-

 what does Shaun get from being part of the gang? 
 which other characters struggle for Woody’s attention? 
 when conflicts arise, how are they resolved?

 how would you describe him as a character? 
 how does he relate to the other members of the groups (particularly Shaun)?
 how is collective identity presented through his character?
 what idea of England does he represent?

For Tubbs and Shaun there are key moments when their place in the gang comes up for discussion. 

Consider these two scenes: 
1: The group prepare to spend a day out together and Tubbs has been sent round to apologise to Shaun and to get him to come along. 
2: Tubbs in the abandoned hall; he speaks about how he feels left out now Shaun has joined them. 

Think about the changes we see in the gang from a narrative perspective: how can you describe the phases that the gang go through? 
Write a description under the following headings: 
✛ Equilibrium (e.g. ‘Woody as gang leader’ phase) 
✛ Disruption 
✛ Resolution

Collective Identity & Sub-Cultures
Learning Objective: 
to analyse how identity is created in film

Success Criteria:
- deconstruct the identity of the characters presented (AO1)
- consider the identity of England represented through the skinhead sub-culture (AO2)
- explore the origins of the sub-culture of skinheads in the UK (AO4)

The biggest change that occurs to the dynamics of the group is the return of Combo; he is the catalyst for Shaun’s passage into adulthood. 

In terms of SKINHEAD CULTURE, Woody and Combo are similar in the way they dress but they way they act is very different. The SUBCULTURE that unites them is what it means to be a skinhead. 

✛ what associations come to mind when you hear the word ‘skinhead’? Make a list.
✛ what behaviours, attitudes, dress, etc. would you expect?

During the film, Combo makes reference to being an ‘original skinhead’. He talks to Milky about how being a skinhead during that time was about black and white harmony. Named for their close-cropped or shaven heads, the original skinheads were greatly influenced by West Indian (specifically Jamaican) rude boys and British mods (another sub-culture), in terms of fashion, music and lifestyleWhen Mods were welcomed into the world of reggae clubs in London, such as Ruby’s on Carnaby Street, they discovered not only Ska music, but the key style components that defined the original skinhead look. The original skinheads were made up of by black and white working-class kids who worked in shipyards and on factory lines in the late sixties. These early skinheads were not necessarily part of any political movement, but that changed by the early 1970s. 

As the 1970s progressed, racially-motivated skinhead violence in the United Kingdom became more political, and far-right groups such as the National Front and the British Movement saw a rise in white power skinheads among their ranks. By the late 1970s, the mass media, and subsequently the general public, had largely come to view the skinhead subculture as one that promotes racism and neo-Nazism. The mainstream media started using the term skinhead in reports of racist violence (regardless of whether the perpetrator was actually a skinhead); this has played a large role in skewing public perceptions about the subculture. 





The second wave of skinheads, in the early 1980s, were in one sense similar: poor kids from council estates finding their place by being different together, like teenagers everywhere. Dressed in Dr Martens and with heads shaved military style, these kids would give the V to anyone foolish enough to give them the eye. These were teens who came from areas of high unemployment looking for solidarity beyond Thatcher’s ‘me’ culture. They were abandoned by society and that, of course, made them vulnerable to the advances of the National Front. 

‘The skinheads, because of their aggression and outward appearance, they’re almost soldier-like, were I suppose almost handpicked to become soldiers for the National Front. You don’t see the contradiction that you’re being indoctrinated into the National Front whilst listening to black music. When I first heard about the National Front, the picture that was painted to me was a Churchillian vision of Asian families rowing into the white cliffs of Dover on boats, and that skinheads would be on the beaches fighting to stop them entering the country. As a twelve-year-old kid that’s quite a romantic image. It’s almost like ‘what your granddad did.’’ Shane Meadows.

As a second wave skinhead who had always been aware of the sixties legacy, Meadows felt it was essential to create a balanced and truthful picture of the scene as he had experienced it. ‘When you’re twelve and no one in your town can get a job, and someone comes up to you and says ‘these people are to blame’ it’s easy to believe,’ says Shane of the racism he encountered through skinheads. ‘I did for about three weeks, some people still believe that as adults and that’s frightening.’

 To capture the inherent contradictions of skinhead culture, Shane presents a motley crew of believable characters whose behaviour is often as farcical as it is threatening and disturbing. Combo, the racist gang leader has L plates on his car, and graffiti-ing becomes a challenge of spelling, for example. They are losers, but Meadows never lets you forget that there is always a reason behind their behaviour. Today, racism and neo-nazism, along with other forms of anti-social behaviour associated with ‘skins’ have become the snap-judgments most people make. 

✛ what were your first impressions of Combo? 

✛ contrast the two gang leaders, using two key scenes to support your points. 
    - use these subheadings in your analysis for each character: 
    - DRESS: Use of language / tone of voice 
    - ATTITUDE TO SHAUN: Relationship to the other members of the group
    - SKINHEAD CULTURE: Woody and Combo are similar in terms of dress, however, the way in which they behave is very different. The subculture that unites them is what it means to be a skinhead.