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In Shane Meadows critically acclaimed This Is England we meet 12 year old Shaun. Suffering from the grief of losing his father in the Falklands war,Shaun stumbles across a group of skinheads who ultimately become not only his best friends but also family to him.from here Shaun is unwittingly thrust into a world of Racism,Nationalism and violence he is not prepared for. Based on the real life experiences of Director and Writer Shane Meadows.
Shaun initially hooks up with Woodys group of skinheads, a fun loving,peaceful and protective group of friends who invite Shaun in to help him and show him a good time. It is clear to see from the outset the positive influence Woody & Co Have on Shaun, a boy who has had a rough time with grief and bullying.
Enter Combo…Ex convict Combo is an entirely different breed of skinhead.An angry,bitter,violent nationalist who causes a rift within our group and ultimately takes Shaun under his wing.the end result a violent attack that leaves Shaun alone,confused and more vulnerable than the beginning of the film
Every now and then you’ll come across a film that imprints on your heart.A film that you could watch 1000 times over and you still haven’t seen it enough,a film that could never be replicated and is in every possible way perfect,That film is This Is England.
Shane Meadows has caught a moment in time,a period of British history and combined not only the best aspects but also the worst. This Is England tackles some very controversial subjects such as Racism,Nationalism and Violence and leaves the audience in a highly uncomfortable position of feeling an element of sympathy for the villain by the end. This is not only a testament to Shane’s Writing but also to Stephan Grahams portrayal of Combo.
Combo is a violent, racist thug on the surface but as we reach the climax of this movie we learn a little about the hardships he has endured especially around his fathers abandonment.This is where we can start to draw parallels between Shaun and Combo and begs the question could Combo have been drawn into his current way of life the same way he is trying to draw Shaun in? Could he have been that vulnerable little kid who just wanted to belong?
This then poses the important question. Can you feel sorry for the villain of the story because of his upbringing and life circumstances ? Shaun turns away from the violence and hatred by the end of the film and to be honest he was never fully in it to begin with.Shaun just wanted to be accepted. So this props up the argument that no you can’t feel sympathy for the devil because our main character does what the Devil couldn’t and walks away. From what information we receive regarding Combo in the film there is enough to give way to some kind of empathy at least even if this is overridden by the horrific actions taken by this character.However Combos background is explored much further in the TV series continuation of This Is England and gives him a chance at redemption.So this then begs another question can a villain who has perpetrated horrific actions be worthy of forgiveness?
Wellit all comes down to the viewers own personal morals and standards.
The Susceptibility of Shaun and Why It Is Important
We have to remember Shaun was in a vulnerable state at the beginning of the movie and was easily susceptible to being swayed towards the Nationalist view point.Combo became a father figure Shaun desperately needed in his life and used Shaun’s personal grief as a driving force to further the Nationalist propaganda. the way in which he does this is take something important, His fathers death during the war and points him in a direction to lay blame. To a child this is all that’s needed, children are not concerned with the complexities of politics when dealing with grief,they are just angry and want somewhere to place the blame.
Radicalism is and has always a real problem of the world and This Is England does a really good job of showing how easy it can be.It is easy to sit on the outside as a spectator and say ‘Doesn’t matter what the back story,I would never do such things’ but this film gives us a glimpse of how easily manipulated individuals can be swept up into such extremist groups.
This Is England is arguably Shane Meadows greatest achievement both in the sense of the film and the the three television series that followed.his ability to write complex characters, to tell a story that NEEDED to be told (even if it made for an uncomfortable conversation) and to lay bare his own personal demons has all contributed to a franchise that will stand the test of time. He wasn’t afraid to let the actors take the lead often improvise scenes and for a film budgeted at £1.5 million that Box Officed £5 million he must of done something right.