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This is England '86, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

This is England '86, Channel 4

This is England '86, Channel 4

Shane Meadows hits the small screen

It's early days yet, obviously, and Meadows will have sole responsibility for two upcoming episodes, but this opener seemed less gritty and more feel-good than Meadows's semi-autobiographical film whose threads it picked up, in which a bullied, fatherless 13-year-old, Shaun (played by Meadows’s great discovery, Thomas Turgoose), finds familial acceptance within a gang of ska-loving Humberside skinheads. The snake in this unlikely Eden arrived in the shape of the nastier type of skin, a racist thug called Combo, who became (a familiar Meadows theme) a flawed father-figure to the lad.

Perhaps collaboration is helping the writer-director to get in touch with his feminine sideCertainly Meadows and his co-writer Thorne made few concessions to those who hadn’t seen the original film – and we were pitched straight into the lives of Woody, Lol, Smell and the rest as if they were old friends – perhaps understandably so as it was exactly his desire to revisit the characters, Meadows told me last week, that drove him to make this TV series in the first place. It is testament to the actors’ relationship with Meadows that they have all, without exception, come back together to make this sequel - although Joe Gilgun (Woody) presumably didn't find that such a hard decision to make after four intervening years playing one of the Dingles in Emmerdale.

Meadows’s desire to make more of the subsidiary characters meant that Shaun, the central figure in the film, was somewhat sidelined last night, after an opening in which we caught up with him, arms crossed, resolutely refusing to even look at his GCSE exam paper, before being hectored into employment by his mother. Instead the focus shifted to Lol (the excellent Vicky McClure), looking as chic as ever in her Doc Martens and Ben Sherman shirt. Meadows, by his own admission, is much stronger on his male characters, so last night’s episode, in which Lol and Woody got married (or, rather, they didn’t) marked a step forward. Perhaps collaboration is helping the writer-director to get in touch with his feminine side.

The other Meadows trademarks were all in place, including the unobtrusive period details – a fading daub of NF graffiti here, a Jam song there – and, as usual, the costumes and soundtrack weren’t slavish to the era. Meadows told me that the actors chose their own clothes and haircuts and that he had no idea whether they were particularly popular in 1986, but if they felt right, then he was happy with them.

The number-one cuts have largely grown out now, to be replaced by something softer (and a bit more Goth in the case of bridesmaid Smell), the outward markers of what I’m guessing will be the theme of the series: what happens when members of a tight-knit youth sub-culture start growing up and apart.

Thomas "Tomo" Turgoose is certainly growing up – but hasn't lost that wonderful open-faced charm along with the puppy fat. The episode begins with a scene which won’t mean anything to those who never saw This is England - it comes from the end of the film, with Shaun in a car with Combo, the back seat of which is soaked in blood. We then fast-forwarded three years to Shaun taking his GCSEs, unimpressed by his employment prospects in Thatcher’s Grimbsy, and set to return to his aimless existence, ripe for a spot of bullying. Enter Flip (Perry Fitzpatrick), the thicko leader of a hilarious moped-riding gang who wanted to use him in his pursuit of a local lovely, Gemma. Shaun himself is still in the sights of the unflatteringly named Smell (Rosamund Hanson).

It was all entertaining stuff, and ended with the friends gathered round the bedside of Meggy (Perry Benson), who’d suffered a heart attack in the loos at the wedding reception – thus providing reluctant groom Woody with his convenient if unconvincing get-out excuse. “I’d like to raise a toast to all of you”, said Meggy, brandishing his “piss bag”. But Lol had walked off, and Shaun, in the hospital to have his face patched up, and spotted by the amorous Smell, had declined to rejoin his erstwhile mates. We will have to wait for the episodes over which Meadows has taken sole responsibility to see whether it’s going to go anywhere deeper and more difficult than the series whose Channel 4 time-slot it occupies so snugly - the increasingly aimless Shameless.

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gerard ... a few weeks on ... your thoughts? I thought the grit came back ... didn't disappoint

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