This Is England ’16?
What does 2016 look like for young people? Bleak, that’s what. And that’s coming from a twenty-something with a full time job.
So what about those young people wondering whether or not university is a good idea, financially, for them? Or those young people struggling to get a job with more than a zero-hours contract?
Which left me thinking - what would Shane Meadows have to say about it all? Or to put it succinctly, what would This Is England ’16 look like?
This Is England, the 2006 film set in Thatcherite 80s Britain, and followed up with three mini series, set in ’86, ’88 and 1990 respectively, is an infamously honest portrait of the state of the nation, as told through the eyes of a group of misfit teens growing up on the fringes of society. Facing punishing class divides, brutal racism, a dwindling economy and the prospect of growing up to be just like their parents; failing miserably to come to terms with life on a council estate and no prospects of happiness on the horizon. And so our motley crew of heroes turn to underground parties, and radical politics to try and find their place in the world, a blazing parallel found in this recent article by Vice.
There is nothing glamorous about the pastimes and parties of these wayward teens, neither the characters of Meadows’ saga. As each new iteration of the drama unfolds every two years, we check back in with the same group of friends - and guess what? Not much changes. By 1986, it’s still grim up north. By 1988, past traumas are returning to haunt the central characters, adding to the grimness of being up north. And by 1990? Shockingly, things are still bleak. The only real change from series to series if the soundtrack (always achingly brilliant), as Meadows’ muses swap The Specials for The Stone Roses as we move into the “Madchester" era.
So what of 2016? Would Woody, Lol, Shaun and Milky be any better off if Meadows turned the camera on them sixteen years later? It’s hard to see a future for these characters where they would have an ounce more faith in government, or be enjoying a minutely brighter economic existence.
Since 1990, we’ve faced cuts, strikes and recessions - all issues rife in 1980s Britain. University fees have gone through the roof, meaning that someone like Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), one of the few characters with a stable family encouraging him towards further education may choose not to go anyway; a devastating reality affecting thousands of talented young people right now.
We’ve also seen repeats of the racist ignorance from the ground up, that Woody and co encountered in the original film. Befriending Stephen Graham’s Combo and developing an interest in their local skin head fascist group was the outcome of a severe lack of education, lack of faith in the government, and struggle to find work. So the solution, borne of ignorance, was for the characters to gravitate towards a political movement who blamed immigrants and anyone of colour for the country’s problems. Meadows’ protagonists are of course not innately racist, but the whole episode demonstrated to the viewer how people like them, struggling with inequality themselves can be lured into believing right wing propaganda, having no other way to express their opinions to the Powers That Be.
We have of course faced xenophobia from some pretty prominent political groups since then but fast forward to 2016 and where are we now? Shunning refugees who are running from terrorism and war-torn homes and threatening to send non-EU migrants back home to help “save” the economy and British jobs. Hardly a step in the right direction, or even a step forward given how much time has elapsed.
In short, things are as bleak as ever, and This Is England ’16 wouldn’t need much fictional storytelling to help Meadows’ brilliant directorial vision take flight. Here’s an idea for you though Shane, how about Gadget and Harvey trotting off to a Sleaford Mods gig wearing “NHS Not Trident” t shirts to start things off?