Working with a film: This Is England

List of main characters:

Shaun  Woody   Combo
Lol  Smell  Gadget
Milky Pukey Nicholls     Cynth
Meggy Banjo  Lenny
Mr. Sandhu    Kes  Kelly

 

Getting started

This film from 2006 depicts a particular period in the early 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister of the United Kingdom.

1) Here are some search words you can combine with the name Thatcher to see what you can find out about things she did that changed the country:

  • School milk
  • Unions
  • Miners
  • Poll Tax
  • Privatizing council houses
  • Homeless
  • Schools
  • Relations to USA
  • NHS
  • Dismantling of the welfare state

 

2) One of the issues Thatcher may be most remembered for is the Falklands War, which is quite prevalent in this film. Find out more about the Falklands War and what it meant to the UK and Thatcher.  

3) A political movement called the National Front is depicted in the film. Find out more about this movement and discuss what you find out in class. Can you think of other similar movements recently in other countries (e.g. Norway, Sweden, France etc.)?

4) The characters in the film speak Yorkshire dialect. You may find it hard to understand the characters at times. Should you then use subtitles or try to understand what is being said? What do you think is the best approach?

 

The title sequence

Stop the film after the opening title sequence. If you asked what was England like in 1982/1983 the answer could be to look at all the images presented here. Here is a list of most of what is shown:

  • Maggie Thatcher trying to drive a construction vehicle. What does the expression on her face suggest? Was this the builder of a new England?
  • An early video game; these were becoming quite popular then. In those days people would play the games in arcades, pubs, cafes and youth clubs, not a home yet. That would come a little later in the decade.
  • A car from the 80s American TV show called Knight Rider starring David Hasselhoff. Hasselhoff played a typical brash American hero, while his co-star was his car, which was a very intelligent computer that talked; it had an English accent.
  • Typical council flats and walls painted with graffiti. Does this look like a nice place to grow up?
  • School boys walking up stairs. In uniform, looking rather sullen.
  • Rock band. We can’t quite make out who it is, but it looks like Top of the Pops material.
  • Women exercising. The exercising trend really took off around this time.
  • Punk music crowd?
  • Couples kissing.
  • Marriage of Lady Diana to Prince Charles. At the time it was a hugely popular marriage that virtually the whole nation stopped to watch.
  • Demolition of council blocks. These types of blocks were never popular and were more like high-rise ghettos.
  • Train crash – British Rail had a bad reputation even back then.
  • Bomb exploding. This is from a specific incident that was on the news where Special Forces were trying to rescue hostages taken by terrorists.
  • Rocket
  • Demonstrators tearing down a fence. The anit-nukes and anti-American demonstrators were still strong back then.
  • Rubik’s cube, a really popular craze at the time.
  • Trick bicycle. This developed as a new sport at the time.
  • Video game again.
  • Thatcher trying a computer, does she look very comfortable? Again not a very flattering picture of Thatcher.
  • People exercising on the job, an example of the introduction of Japanese business ideas. One of the reasons why Margaret Thatcher came to power was because British industry had been eclipsed by Japan and others, and a wave of strikes by powerful unions was crippling the country’s economy.
  • CD and computer components manufacturing, harbinger of the great changes in computers and communication that were just around the corner.
  • Demonstrations. It is hard to see what they are demonstrating about: Could it be miners? Unions? Against fox hunting? Many people felt that Margaret Thatcher ruined the welfare state and there were many demonstrations against her. She did tame the unions.
  • National Front, neo-Nazi march.
  • Pictures of vandalism.
  • Immigrants.
  • Signs of racial tension and violence.
  • Sheep, but this is actually our first look at the Falklands. First you might think it could be the West Country, Ireland, Wales or perhaps even Scotland, but in fact, as the next pictures reveals, it is the Falklands.
  • Troops on the Falklands.
  • Scenes from the war including Thatcher talking to some sailors.
  • Thatcher with US President Ronald Reagan
  • Newspaper declaring US support for Britain (Argentina was also an American ally). This was no easy choice for the Americans.
  • A strange shot of Thatcher. Would you vote for this lady? But she won three elections and served as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990.
  • War casualties – the side of war those who lead us into them seldom have to see or experience.
     

Now, discuss in class the effect of this opening sequence. What does the director want us to think about England at this time? What impressions are we left with?

 

After the first 11 minutes

Stop the film after the school when Shaun has met the skinheads (stops at 11.00) and then discuss the following points.

  1. What is the general setting? How important does the setting appear to be in this film?
  2. Does the film have a prevalent mood?
  3. Are there any conflicts/tensions?
  4. Apart from the main character, Shaun, who else do you find interesting at this point?
  5. Think back to when Shaun first wakes up. Who is speaking on the radio? What does Shaun do? What else is on the night table?
  6. What are your impressions about the language so far? Can you follow the dialect? What do you think about the amount of swearing?
  7. Is Shaun the victim of bullying? Does he pick on anyone himself?
  8. Why do you think Shaun seems to want to provoke trouble at times (e.g. with the shopkeeper)?
    The other boy in the fight (Harvey) is first slapped across the head by a teacher and then Shaun listens as he is caned. What is Shaun’s reaction while he is listening?
  9. How does Shaun react to the skinheads? What might they offer him that he does not seem to be getting from his environment?

 

Stop the film after Shaun’s haircut

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Doc Matens boots::

A footwear, clothing and accessories brand, and the footwear products are most often known as Doc Martens, Docs or DMs. The boots and shoes have been especially popular among skinheads, punks and members of a few other youth subcultures.

  1. Why is it important for Shaun to have the Doc Martens? What does this tell us about Shaun at this early stage?
  2. What are your opinions about the gang and the way they treat Shaun at this time? Do you think they have any ulterior motives? 

 

Discussion topics groups can choose

  1. Shaun wants to take on the appearance of the gang. What does this tell us about being in a gang? Why is it important for Shaun?
  2. Youth in the UK have often formed cliques where the “look” is very important. There are/were skinheads, teddies, punks, greasers, casuals, Goths, hip-hoppers, Jesus Freaks, mods, scooterboys, skate punks, wiggers. You will probably know even more. Discuss in class the various groups you know of.
  3. The members of this gang seem to be outsiders and some of them seem to have a lot of rage. Where do you think all their rage is coming from? To answer this you will have to look more into class differences in the UK. Choose an aspect about class to present. Is the UK still a class society today?
     

No more breaks in the action

Now it is time to stop these interventions and watch the rest of the film uninterrupted. Before starting again though, discuss what you think Shaun’s future might be.

 

After you have seen the whole film

What do you think the title of the film refers to and reflects?

 

Looking at plot

  1. Thinking of the scene, “The best day of my life” (starts 25 minutes into the film), what is your opinion of the gang and what they are doing for Shaun?
  2. Everything changes when Combo enters the scene. How would you describe the mood of the gang and the atmosphere once he appears?
  3. Very near the end of the film we see real footage from the Falklands War. We see bodies, guns and ammo surrendered by the Argentineans, Argentinean prisoners, cheering locals and returning heroes. Why do you think the director puts all this footage in his film? What message do you think he is trying to convey?
  4. The film could end by telling us more about Shaun and how things go for him but ends suddenly with the camera on Shaun after he has thrown the flag away. Shaun then just looks into the camera. What do you read in his eyes?

 

Looking at theme

  1. What is the main theme of the film? Explain your opinion and point to examples.
  2. Are there any secondary themes? If so, what are they, and why have they been included in the film?
     

Considering the audience

  1. A film with a message obviously has an audience in mind. Who do you think the director is trying to reach? Is this a film for children of Shaun’s age (11 years old)?
  2. The film depicts racism, but in the process we hear the propaganda of the National Front and we see Shaun harass the shopkeeper. Are those scenes important for the film, or could they backfire and actually encourage racism?
     

Looking at character

  1. This is a film about outsiders. Why is Shaun an outsider? Why do you think the others in the gang, Woody, Gadget, Milky, Pukey, Smell, Lol and the others are outsiders? What kind of a future do you think they have?
  2. Which characters do you sympathise with?
  3. Could Woody have been a better support for Shaun? Should he have stood up for Milky at the first meeting with Combo?
  4. Discuss the following: “Shaun is one of the many invisible victims of Thatcher’s little war.”
  5. Discuss Combo’s character. Is it possible to sympathise with him?
     

Looking at setting

  1. You were asked to look at setting earlier. Now that you have seen the whole film, what is the impression you are left with?
  2. What does the social setting tell us about the situation in England in the early 1980s?

 

Writing topics

  1. Write a newspaper review of the film This Is England.
  2. Write a character study of Shaun or Combo.
  3. Write a text about Shaun’s life calling it: “Falklands casualty”. Choose the angle you want to take.

 

Sequels

A spin-off TV series set three years after the film (This Is England '86) was broadcast in 2010, and in 2011 a sequel to the series appeared, set two and a half years later (This Is England '88). A third installment (This Is England '90) was shown in 2015.