As good as a nice cup of tea, and a sit down.

Friday, 3 September 2010

This is British Cinema: A Night with Shane Meadows

Picture: Colin Baldwin
Shane Meadows’ appropriated title, ‘the Scorsese of the Midlands’, though no doubt meant as a compliment, fails to stick properly. Whilst his cinematography is certainly on a par with some of these greats, it is his character development that sets him apart from his American contemporaries. Scorsese films, Di Palma films, Stone films: however much we are confronted with the ‘grit’ of criminality, we still view it with an element of cinematic distance. The construction of Meadows characters from his endless workshops, in some cases casting individuals with no prior acting experience; results in an intimacy with his characters that has rarely been furthered. You know his people and put simply, you care about what happens to them.

Thankfully, the transposition from big screen to small screen did not hamper this much with the arrival of This is England ’86, Part 1. of which was screened last night at The Showroom, Sheffield.

Picture: Colin Baldwin
A great deal of time was invested into making the experience authentic. The interior was kitted out like a Working Men’s Club down to the minutest details, with scooters revving up outside the doors, vol-au-vent buffet and stubbed-out rollies in plastic ashtrays. The choice of The Showroom as a venue was in part down to the relocation of filming to Sheffield. ‘The [Nottingham] estates we shot the film on were just about to be torn down after the original film,’ Meadows explained, ‘I hadn’t been to Sheffield before but as soon as I came I fell in love with the landscape.’

Picture: Colin Baldwin
Alongside Meadows and the serial’s Producer Mark Herbert, most of the cast of part 1 were in attendance, including Thomas Turgoose (Sean), Vicky Mclure (Lol) and Joe Gilgun (Woody).

To give a brief synopsis, the four parts are one hour each in length, allowing the story to play out much farther than the original film. Part 1. begins with the impending nuptials of Woody and Lol, and Sean’s exit from school with few prospects on the horizon. As could be predicted with any Meadows production, Part 1. reaches the banality, the humour, the sadness and darkness of real working-class life. The depth of development with characters such as Lol shows promise for the further 3 installments, particularly from the excerpt that was shown of the continuation of the end. It is not without its faults. The relationship between Sean and Smell never seemed to make much sense, yet despite this it sees a continuation in Part 1. And some of the costumes seem a little elaborate, perhaps a little too eager to get a cross-section of all 80s sub-cultures.

All in all, the devil really is in the most microscopic observations, and it is this that makes This Is England ’86 compelling. The dialogue is often clumsy and rather stunted, and the scenes don’t always achieve cogence. This is the opposite of what you have come to expect in cinema but then, life is awkward: it isn’t always carried out with a dramatic flourish. This is England ’86 has a common beauty - the flashes of remembrance that surface when watching it for anyone who grew up through that strange and difficult decade. The crap beaded seat covers supposedly meant to make cars look posh, Panda Pops, those awful brown patterned bus seats. You almost can hear yourself saying some of those cringeworthy adolescent assertions, too.

With the death knell for the British Film Council ringing out, it’s sad to think that the next Meadows may not have the support to carry out his or her vision. Meadows’ continues to prove that there is a real vitality in British cinema which needs to able to thrive.

Picture: Colin Baldwin

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