If I could grow up in any time and place, it would definitely be England during the early 1980s. The Clash, Doc Martens, The Smiths, sweet haircuts – was there anything not cool about this era?

Then, when I take a second to actually think about it and not base my decision strictly on the existence of good punk bands, I suddenly realize that the only reason these things were around in the first place was because everything else sucked: racism, Margaret Thatcher, mass unemployment, Dexy’s Midnight Runners. And then I’m just like, “F that. I’d rather just live in the 60’s.”

Shane Meadows’s latest film, “This is England,” is an exploration of this inventive time and place. Strongly influenced by Franois Truffaut’s landmark portrayal of innocence, “The 400 Blows,” it is a rare, honest film that mostly manages to contain its sentiments within the groundwork of a fascinating coming-of-age tale.

The film stars English actor Thomas Turgoose, in his first- ever film role. Turgoose plays Shaun, a lonesome 12-year-old dealing with the recent death of his father in the Falklands War.

After a rough day at school, Shaun is befriended on his walk home by an older pack of Skinheads led by the amicable Woody, played by Joe Gilgun.

Shaun is swept into an alluring world of sex, drugs and trendy fashion in 1980s England, as he becomes an instant favorite to a much older crowd.

To the dismay of his mother, played by actress, Jo Hartley, he undergoes the group’s rites of passage by shaving his head and sporting a pair of customary red suspenders over a Ben Sherman shirt.

Almost immediately, his world is turned upside down by the presence of Combo, played by Stephen Graham, an explicit racist and ex-con whose passionate outlooks on race and pride are particularly attractive to Shaun.

Combo’s views on supremacy convince him that the only way to maintain his father’s name is by joining his cause. Under Combo’s wing, we see an aggressive and spiteful side of Shaun that is more of a reflection of his new role model’s suppressive control than an enactment of Shaun’s own natural instincts.

Loosely based on Meadow’s own childhood, “This is England” has a sensitivity and sense of cinematic realism that is lacking in Hollywood today.

Unsightly shots of a shattered English countryside contrast beautiful images of nature, highlighting Shaun’s strong desire to find serenity in an overly bleak environment, while the film’s frenetic camerawork helps position the viewer alongside the action as we witness a sad case of innocence lost.

The film’s honesty is further maintained by the pragmatic performances of all those involved – with special kudos going to Turgoose and the strangely underused Gilgun – and the emotive soundtrack, which features songs by Toots & the Maytals, The Specials and a chilling rendition of The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Help Me Get What I Want,” performed by the relatively unknown band Clayhill.

While it’s no “The 400 Blows,” “This is England” is a genuinely candid and heartfelt examination of adolescence by a talented director.

The film delves deeply into the pains of growing up and being accepted in a way that is neither preachy nor profound. Unlike the deceptive vacuum it exists in, this film is all too real.

Milbrand is a member of the class of 2008.



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