This is England
I’ve just been watching a flim on TV, This is England.
It was made a couple of years ago, but was set in England in about 1982, during the Falklands War. It’s about a boy who is bullied at school and befriended by a gang of skinheads, and begins to hang out with them, and enjoys their friendship, but then an older former leader of the gang is released from prison, and a darker side emerges, as he is an English nationalist, and the gang splits as racism and xenophobia intrude.
I won’t say more about the plot in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen it, and don’t want to add plot spoilers.
But I was very conscious of it being an England I had missed entirely.
I visited England twice. Once in the mid-sixties, when I spent two and a half years there, mostly studying in Durham, but also driving buses in London, described, in part, in another blog post on Swinging London in retrospect. The second visit was about three years ago, much shorter, a three week holiday visiting old friends and relations.
After nearly 40 years there were many changes. One of the most noticable was that in the 1960s there had been an industrial working class. There were factory workers, coal miners and others. Forty years later most people seemed to be employed in service industries.
Nowadays the transition seems to be marked by the jokes on motoring programmes on TV — about the Japanese failure to make proper motorbikes that leaked oil, or proper cars that broke down.
But the film showed something I had missed, that marked the transition — the Thatcher years.
I’m sure that the film does not tell the full story of those years, and that there were lots of other things that happened. But during both my visits to Britain there was a Labour government, and it seemed a little bit more sunny and cheerful and optimistic.
I’d be interested in knowing if people who lived through the Thatcher years and saw the film think it is true to life.
It’s actually a film I really want to see.
I enjoyed Dead Men’s Shoes by the same Director. And that very much depicted the England I know. Much as this film does, from the impression I get.
The film certainly portrays the two sides of skinhead culture accurately, and the reason many people were attracted to it.
As for the politics ~ well, it depended on what side of the divide you were on. Those who had been getting pushed around by union bullyboys, and were soon to be free, or those who were working in subsidised industries, who were about to have the heart ripped from their communities.
But the film is set (and was largely filmed) in Grimsby, which went into decline in the early 1970’s, when we joined the EEC (as was) and stupidly gave our fishing rights away, thus crippling our homegrown industry. In fact, Grimsby in the 1980’s was probably a slightly more cheerful place than in the 1970’s, but it was still no picnic, and it still has its issues now.