I did something on Wednesday night that I had never done before: I watched a day-and-date indie feature on television. I’m all-too-familiar with these new business models for releasing independent global cinema, but I had not yet tested the waters myself either because the catalog of films usually consisted of things I’d already seen or, films I would see in a theater soon enough. For Shane Meadows’ This Is England, no such luck. The acclaimed film had missed me at various festivals, and it doesn’t have any Austin theatrical dates yet. So, I sat down on the sofa and browsed the channels on my Time Warner set-up until I came across the “IFC In Theaters” option. With a few films to choose from, including Jonathan King’s Black Sheep, just as promised (earlier in the day by IFC marketer Ryan Werner) there was England.
Some of my blogger pals have typed up recommendations for the film to be seen in theaters, in New York City. This isn’t what I’m gonna do. If you live outside New York, like I do, I suggest ordering This Is England on VOD. Not as a cultural cinephile experiment, but because it’s a terrific piece of filmmaking. Both naturalistic and brimming with style, Meadows captures a slice of Thatcher-era England, wherein disenchanted youths seek refuge in vandalism, drugs, and music (especially Toots and the Maytals) while terrorizing locals. The line between disenchantment and disaster, becomes blurry when an ex-con named Combo (Stephen Graham) tries to reconnect with his old friends, who are now skinheads (the benign kind). Combo, however, is a different kind of skinhead. His neo-fascist leanings divide them all, and young Shaun (played by newcomer Thomas Turgoose) is naively drawn to Combo’s way of life.
From there, Meadows’ semi-autobiographical film gets more and more heated, drawing from post-Falklands trauma and strained Pakistani/English relationships. Rather than play up the social and racial bigotry for sensationalism, Meadows employs an understated approach, reminiscent of his earlier work but also defiantly stronger. This Is England sits with you as a recollection of a turbulent time in modern British history. Not so much a fond recollection as it is a sobering examination of teens with no national identity, and seeking it in all the wrong ways. While the narrative may not be all that unusual or experimental, the techniques, performances, and dialogue make This Is England a new film I recommend to you.
If a New York residency isn’t in the cards this weekend, you can probably catch it on your cable’s VOD system. Aside from a few digital stutters that could have been our cable set-up just as much as it could have been the feed, it played well on TV. IFC First Take films cost $5.95 on Austin’s Time Warner Cable, which is a steal, though beware it is not available on VOD in every market with every cable provider. Upcoming IFC First Take releases that should be on your radar, include: Dans Paris (August 8), Hannah Takes the Stairs (August 22), The Last Winter (September 19), Finishing the Game (October 5), Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten (November 2), Cronica de una fuga (December 5), Flakes (December 19), Americanese (TBD), Out of the Blue (TBD), and more.