Sophie’s Choice: This Is England ’90 (TV Review)
Sunday night marked the long-awaited and highly-anticipated return of Shane Meadows’ award-winning drama series This Is England; in the form of its last instalment, This Is England ’90. Following on from the film set in 1983 and subsequent drama series set in ‘86 and ‘88, viewers have watched little Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) grow up on screen and seen the cast adapt and change with the fashion, music and sub-cultures of the times as well as having to go through horrendous struggles and harrowing storylines along the way.
The premiere episode of the final chapter opens in Spring as the gang have ditched their Dr Marten’s, Fred Perry’s and skinheads and have opted for neon coloured t-shirts, denim dungarees, bucket hats and a revitalised spirit that was born in the 90s as working people had hope again. Rick Astley and The Jam are out; and The Stone Roses, Blur and Happy Mondays are well and truly in.
Introduced with Meadows’ signature opening montage of momentous moments from the decade, we see: Thatcher leaving Downing Street; the Strangeways Prison riot; the then-golden boy of English football, Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne, being sent off the pitch at the 1990 World Cup semi-final; the Poll Tax riots; and much more as Meadows expertly encapsulates the biggest pop culture moments of the 1990s.
This time around on the Sheffield council estate, Lol and Woody are back together and living in their own flat with a new baby which, after years of misery and heartache for the couple, is a very welcoming sight.
For the most part, the gang are happy and settled, but if we can expect anything from Meadows, it’s that things are going to get a lot darker. Towards the end of the episode, in amongst rave music and ‘sniff-banging’ (don’t even ask), Shaun gets into a fight with his ex-girlfriend and born-again-goth Smell’s new fella and his group of head-bangers and grunge fans at the Madchester night at the town hall. Still harbouring feelings for his ex (who he was caught cheating on in ’88), we find Shaun weeping on his own and wondering what to do with his life (college just isn’t his “cup of tea”) and how to get Smell back.
Another cause for concern in this seemingly happy opening episode veiled with subtle hints of darkness is Kelly. While the gang socialise, catch up and have a laugh at the Madchester night, Kelly is frequently seen taking speed and dancing on her own amongst the crowd.
In this episode, the sun is shining and the drinks are flowing, and things might just be looking up for the gang. But as they are graced with a bit of comic relief in this opener, something tells me that Meadows has some dark tricks up his sleeve to shake things up.
In next week’s preview, we see the return of the legendary pint-sized-psycho, Combo (who took the wrap for Lol killing her abusive dad and went to prison for her in ‘86); the gang go on a road trip filled with booze, drugs and raves; and the ‘happy times’ slowly start to unravel.
One of the best things about Meadows’ evocative, colourful, time-travelling, back-to-the-future culture creation – aside from gripping drama performed by incredible acting talent and the kind of harrowing yet hilarious storylines that we see in series like Channel 4’s Shameless – is how the costumes and soundtrack inspire nostalgia about the look and feel of the 90s; casting viewers back to the ‘good old days’ when the Internet was just a baby and you couldn’t Sky+ your favourite TV programmes. But Meadows also has a raw, unrivalled talent of bringing back the history of these years and showcasing how the iconic, and sometimes devastating, events of the 90s affected Britons and shaped the entire nation.
The next episode of This Is England ’90 airs on Sunday, 9pm on Channel 4. You can catch up with the first episode on 4od.
Read more about theThis Is England film and series here as I take an indepth look back at ’83 – ’88.