I’m sure there are other British directors out there doing sterling work; in fact I know there are, but are there any who are exactly like Shane Meadows? Or, rather are there any doing the same thing as him? Making uniquely British films that don’t just seem like an extended episode of a soap opera? I have a couple of names on the tip of my tongue but none of them are from the latest generation of film-makers. A lot of British film makers seem to shift away from their homeland as a focus because it is somehow too parochial and not a large enough canvas to stretch their artistic vision out on; they all want to be in Hollywood getting budgets that are the equivalent of a small country’s yearly budget making films chock-full of cliche and rotascoped fuckwits. A lot of the new crop are also making the kind of tripe that could have been made anywhere. Of course there are exceptions.
This film says some important things; looks at a culture that is shied away from as being too controversial. We don’t get your usual cartoon racists here either, your typical dumb-fuck skinheads. Meadows manages to make you uncomfortable, to get in your face, and also not just give us an empty cardboard rendering of what might generally be written off as the villains of the piece. Heroes and villains aren’t the currency of the day here – there are no clear-cut lines; even the line that Combo, the chief skinhead, draws on the ground doesn’t make it any easier to pigeonhole him or any of the other characters. What is Combo? What is Milky? What is Woody? What are any of the kids and adults we see here? They’re people; people who fuck up and people who change their mind, and of course ones that don’t – followers and leaders, none of them seeming any less scared than the other.
Like all of his other films we don’t see some idea run coldly through the head of a political commentator, or passed through the cool gaze of a detached cinematographer. We get brains, balls and heart here – we get a human look at the whole shebang. It’s not hard to like every single character we meet here at some point in their story and that means that you don’t have to work to understand why they do what they do – even if you don’t agree with it.
The film is beautifully put together – the cinematography really brings out the character and the beauty of some of the scenery, whether in the country or the city. All of the acting is really believable; not a weak link in the whole chain. It draws you in and it convinces – you never have to struggle to believe that these are real people and this is what they would do. I got drawn in by the recreation of the eighties; all those political, social and pop culture touchstones – this film transported me and so it made me care; it involved me; and that really is one of Meadow’s strengths, and one you have to hope he will always play to – appealing to the human being and not the wallet.