This is England '88 (UK - DVD R2)
Our Marcus catches up with the This is England gang, this time in 1988...
Two years after the events in This is England '86, it's a bleak time for gang. Lol (Vicky McClure), is a single mum, suffering from depression and being haunted by the image of her abusive dead father. Woody (Joseph Gilgun) is struggling to fit into suburban life and has not seen the rest of the gang in quite some time and Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), now living with Smell, is gravitating towards another girl at college. Yes, it's the usual bleakness for the Shane Meadows 80s period drama but This is England once again is by far the best British TV show out there.
With this three part special airing in December last year and with a Christmas setting, you'd be forgiven if you predicted this one might bring down the festive mood somewhat. Yes, This is England is depressing. The themes and plot points Meadows tackles are not for the easily affected but when you have a filmmaker this good, making a show this strong, it's hard not to love it for all that it is.
For starters, there isn't a stronger cast of actors in a British TV show in my mind. Everyone here has a raw talent that is incredibly effective. The way Meadows balances humour, sadness and the darkness of the characters' situations is astonishing and even with a short run of only three episodes he manages to draw in his audience and allow them to live in the world he depicts without it feeling like a fly on the wall documentary looking in on how the other half live, these characters feel like family and their situations are very real.
I can't think of another show that can make me laugh and break my heart in such steady succession. The depiction of where Woody is at in his life and his funny outbursts that show how uncomfortable he is with his it is a performance that's hard not to adore. Vicky McClure's 'Lol' on the other hand should be unlikable but with the character's past and the turmoil under her skin for us to study, you can't help but live alongside these two, especially when they finally meet up again at the end of the final episode.
Meadows enables us to get inside of his characters' heads so subtly and what's he's formed with these TV series is something quite modern, despite living in a world British filmaking has thrived on for years. None of these situations are new, none of the sets ups all that original but Meadows has taken the formula and made it feel alive. He's modernised it, drawn out the reality of human drama and set a new benchmark in British TV. I wasn't the biggest fan of the original film at first but these TV shows have something very special about them and promise a bright future for all the talent involved. This is England '88 is by far the highlight of British TV last year and This is England '90 can't come along quick enough.
The image quality here is very clean with its digital photography. Colours are rich but slightly off of natural, hovering closer to garish at times with plenty of yellows and purples, adding to the period setting. Black levels are deep and the detail in the frame can be very good. Textures of costumes, skin blemishes and what not, as well as set dressing, are very well defined and for a TV show that feels very much like a documentary at times, Meadows still has a cinematic eye that subtly holds you inside of the deeply dramatic scenes. He feels decidedly modern and this is leaps and bounds above most British drama and this DVD presentation does a wonderful job of showing it off. While I'm very interested to see what the Blu-ray looks like, I'm quite surprised by how good this DVD looks none the less.
Dialogue is recorded quite naturally but it's still very crisp and clear. Subtle atmospherics in and around scenes are also very realistic. Deep breaths, the fabric of clothes being moved and the general filling out of larger scenes all feel very real and add an additional element of everyday life to each scene.
For a show that is very much set in real life, the Lol's ghost dad scenes get very cinematic with a horror sensibility. Choirs building the intensity (also adding to the Christmas setting) and a real overbearing sensation is created to add more weight to this character's ominous reappearance. This track isn't one that will give your home cinema a workout but it's still an above average mix for a TV show.
With songs from the period on the menus (The Cure and The Smiths for example) there's already a feel good element to these extras. The
'Cast Interviews' (09:17) are essentially an overview of where the characters are now from the actors' points of view. The cast seem very much like their onscreen characters in many of the good ways.
'Crew Interviews' (07:19) feature the producer, hair and make up designers as well as the costume designer. There are only glimpses of Shane Meadows, mainly via on set footage but he's spoken about fondly from all.
'In Between Takes' (02:34) is a lighter look at the shoot with the cast and crew of friends mucking about and having a laugh and there's just over seven minutes worth of deleted scenes.
The big draw is the Episode 3 commentary with Joe Gilgun & Vicky McClure (Woody and Lol). The track is actually quite funny with the pair laughing and joking about the scenes. They give details about how they were not allowed to see each other for the entire shoot to add more weight to the end of this series. There's also a lot of insight into Meadow's techniques and details about how loose some of the scenes are, like the Woody and gang reunion where the actors didn't know they were going to walk into each other and the entire scene was improvised and shot in one take. Astonishing really considering the strength of that scene. The entire track is brilliant and the lightness of it adds a nice juxtaposition to the bleakness of the episode, so it's a good way to revisit.
I guess you've picked up on it already but I have nothing but praise for This is England '88. I'm not a big British TV watcher but I'll go through hell and high water to make sure I see this show when it's on and this latest three part instalment did not disappoint. As for the disc, A/V is great, the extras are strong (though not all that long) so all in all this is a solid release of a great show.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 12th March 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Commentary, Interviews, Between Takes, Deleted Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Shane Meadows
Cast: Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Thomas Turgoose
Length: 144 minutes
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