This Is England ’86 review

The first episode of This Is England ’86 aired on Channel 4 last night, inviting inevitable comparisons between the four-part drama and the revered 2006 film.

Clever cuts and (presumably) unused This Is England footage allows for Shaun’s transition into a teenager completing his CSE’s – yup, there’s just as much 80s-related attention to detail as before. Thankfully it seems that the soundtrack’s maintained its credibility, too.

Yet Shaun remains distant from the majority of the cast throughout this episode: a nod to the fallout from the actions of so-far absent character, Combo. The allure of the gang is back, for the viewers at least, with  all the action, tension and comedy lying with Woody, Lol, and the rest of the original skinhead crew.

For the majority of the episode, both the scripting and acting did the film justice. Woody’s desperate declaration of undying love is brilliantly undercut by Lol muttering, “alright, just give me a fag”, and the absence of the film’s racial tensions hints at space for a far more in-depth exploration of Shane Meadows intriguing characters. The episode’s only downfall was its pace, which was considerably slowed by the re-introduction of characters and circumstances, which possibly left those who hadn’t see the film none the wiser anyway.

Meadows teamed up with Skins‘ writer Jack Thorne for the scripting of this opening episode – and it’s not entirely unnoticeable. Jovial comedy punctuated by moments of sadness, constant chain smoking and quirky 80s fashion – it’s all there.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. TV gangs are always popular – not the violent, racist kind that the film spiralled towards, but the mishmashed groups of edgy cool-kids whose mundane lives somehow offer endless adventure. Groups of friends pledging their never-ending loyalty to each other through countless near-misses and copious nights of intoxication tend to inspire viewers to either sentimentalise their own experience or yearn for something similar – and either way it keeps them hooked.

So it was with Skins and Shameless, and as the latest recruit to the ten o’clock slot, This Is England ’86 should fit right in. We can’t wait ’til the next episode!

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