When we last encountered the British director Shane Meadows, he was chronicling the rise of skinhead antagonism in the flyover country of Thatcher’s England. A terse, intimate exploration of a nation in cultural flux, 2006’s This Is England cannily portrayed the mounting racial hysteria within the young, white working class, but still managed to avoid race-baiting exploitation. Never imagining itself to be above sympathizing with even the most repellent, Paki-bashing skinhead, Meadows’s film is not so much a “British History X” as a Mike Leigh film in Doc Martens, shouting only an occasional “Oi!” (The comparison with Leigh is not limited to citizenship alone: both directors use a great deal of rehearsal and improvisation to achieve their particular brands of kitchen-sink realism.)
Meadows’s new film, Somers Town, dovetails neatly with his last, offering a vivid contrast between the Eighties, when Britain’s large unemployment numbers bred suspicion among the “true” English about their immigrant neighbors, and the 2000s, when the U.K.’s membership in the European Union has made ethnic diversity an inevitability. What makes this contrast more striking is Meadows’s shift of setting, from the provincial specificity of his native Midlands to the multi-ethnic urban enclaves of London. Shooting in the capital for the first time, and reteaming with This is England‘s young star, Thomas Turgoose, Meadows presents this move to the big city—with employment opportunities otherwise unavailable to those from all over England and Europe—as something of an inevitability itself. Click here to read the rest of Leo Goldsmith’s review of Somers Town.