I'm going to write a few posts about some of the weird and wonderful (or not so much) things I've been watching/playing/experiencing over these Christmas holidays.
It started off with this, This Is England '88. I'm not entirely sure what it is about Shane Meadows' work that I find so appealing. The bleak, gritty council estates in which they're set? The often violent/crude actions and constant foul language of the characters? Perhaps not, yet something about that "kitchen sink realism" combined with the rebellious but loveable nature of the characters - in this instance, embittered with a sudden need to "grow up" - topped with moments of brilliant dark humour has made the entire series from the first This is England film irresistible to me.
Compared to the first film, where a lot of the focus was on the intimidating Combo and his controversial views of society, the two television series to follow it (This is England '86 and '88) seem to have concentrated more on exploring the relationships between the characters. I find the characters themselves are very well-realised and believable; you really do get the sense that they're a long-running group of friends who continue living even after you've finished watching the series.
Yet, there is a strong undercurrent of sorrow and sinisterness throughout the series. Their lives are not happy ones, as Meadows seems very keen to ensure. Particularly the tragic and enigmatic Lol, portrayed by Vicky McClure, whose past of abuse and a failed relationship has left her as a single parent suffering from disturbing hallucinations.
But, story aside, one aspect of This is England that always prevents my eyes from wandering is the way it's shot. It's shaky and nervous, and never ignores those mundane moments that make it feel all that more believable. There's also plenty of lingering slow-motion and close-up shots that take us momentarily away from the turmoil and swearing and give us a glimpse of their fragility.
I personally don't think many dramas pull off creating truly loveable yet tragic characters, but this is one of them, and I'm looking forward to the next instalment.
In any case, it was a welcome break from the artificial glossiness of most Christmas television.