Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What is England?

I saw the film This is England yesterday evening and am still trying to get my head around it.

The core of the film was a very touching emotional story. This was the story of a young boy alienated from his peers and finding refuge and a fragile happiness in a skinhead gang. This is an interesting tale. It also forms a very interesting look at the banality of evil. One, well told, example of the mundane and dismal ways people end up in the position of evildoer.

In the central role of the boy, Shaun, Thomas Turgoose is brilliant. Equally, the rest of the film is well acted and the emotions are very human. Had this film confined itself to being an emotional story I would have come away very impressed. However, it also contains constant references to the Falklands. So many of the main film's scenes are bookended with radio or TV news reports from the war. Clearly, these references to the Falklands are more than just context.

Here I am going to have to confess to a genuine uncertainty. The Guardian review sees the references to the Falklands as being an example of the confident eighties that the characters in the film have no contact with. This take on the film doesn't seem justified though. At one point a Union flag held by a National Front demonstrator is actually faded into one carried by a soldier in the iconic images of the forces in the Falklands. Throughout the film it seems to be trying to draw parallels between the National Front and the patriotism of the Falklands War. At the end of the film Shaun throws a flag of St. George into the sea which suggests a rejection of patriotism in general. I could be wrong. Other reviews don't seem to have noticed this theme. However, I cannot account for the film's use of the Falklands in any other way.

Equating patriotism and fascist racism is a dire message. Clearly the love of their country felt by most Britons at the time of the Falklands, a war with huge public support, was entirely different to the racial hatred espoused by the National Front. To equate the two is either to attempt a crude and unjustified smear upon patriotism or to diminish the awfulness of the National Front's ideology.

This message is so distasteful it ruined, for me, the climax of what is otherwise a superb emotional story. Go and see the film for yourself. I hope I'm wrong and that someone will explain how. If so I might see This is England on DVD and feel better about it.


ghetufool said...

your language is very sweet. will come again.

Ruthie said...

That sounds very interesting, I'd never heard of the movie before now.

It sounds like a book I read once called Skin Deep. I wonder if they're related.

Vino S said...

I don't think I agree with your analysis of the last scene. I saw him casting the flag out to sea a way of making a connection with his father's memory by, in a sense, setting the flag off to sail for the Falklands. As Wilfred Owen said, when contemplating his death, '....there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England'.

Regarding the general point, I think the film is trying to say that a lot of extremists are damaged people and have their own issues. In addition, though, i would agree that it does - to some degree - seem to be blurring the boundary between fascism and patriotism. However, perhaps that is a valid reflection on how - unfortunately - sometimes patriotic feelings can be misused by the far-right.

Neil Harding said...

Billy Bragg is a patriotic leftie trying to re-claim patriotism back from the fascists - he should forget it. It is like those liberal religious people who try to pull religion back from bigotry - worthwhile if it saves lives - but he is trying to ignore the core problem.

Patriotism is essentially nationalism and I think it is inextricably linked from xenophobia and racism just as religion encourages a denial of scientific evidence.

I remember the jingoistic mood of the Falklands period well - I revelled in the 'what shall we do with the Argentinians - bomb the bastards' fervour as much as most people but looking back it was frightening. It was mob rule and woe betide anyone who dare be different.

We are one world and one human race - to favour one group over another just because of what particular bit of land they born on is both unethical and illogical.

A stock broker in London has got more in common with a stockbroker in Bonn than a welder in Newcastle etc. etc.

Back to the film - the emotionaL side was brilliantly done by Shane Meadows and the acting excellent but the political message missed a beat for me because it would have been more interesting and perhaps honest if the nice skinhead who befriended the boy had been the racist not the outsider guy who we could all instantly dislike. Most people in Britain were racist at the time and a lot still are - racism is a spectrum right across society not a distinct easily identifiable group who join the BNP.

Anonymous said...

A la mode decadence. I think racists, political idiots, peasants - that run around playing the ideological champions of some lost cause - have about as much credibility as the makers of this film and everyone commenting in this abysmal little hole for a democratic discussion, over the fondu of this bilious crap.

Chasing fleeting shadows, is all one could do in this film - in its message and so on.

Good day.