Shane Meadows: interview

Shane Meadows‘s film about early '80s skinheads reflects his own flirtation with violence. No wonder it's become such a 'hot spud', he tells Time Out

Shane Meadows: interview
Thomas Turgoose as director Shane Meadows's young alter ego, Shaun in 'This is England'

The films of Shane Meadows play so close to home that, when watching them, you feel not only as if you’re wandering about the filmmaker’s own backyard but also that you’re privy to the details of his private life. They give the viewer insights to his upbringing, his friends, his family, his thoughts, his fears or simply what makes him laugh, what makes him angry and what makes him tick. Of course, many artworks are deeply personal, but Meadows’s films are particularly close to their maker’s heart: an ongoing chronicle of working-class life in the Midlands for both him and those around him over the past three decades.

Back in 1996, a 24-year-old Meadows dashed about in a wig for his hour-long ‘Smalltime’, a light-hearted film which he shot on video for peanuts and which arrived hot-on-the-heels of his 12-minute debut, the equally anarchic ‘Where’s the Money, Ronnie?’. They were both rough-edged, homemade tales of lads, petty crime and boozing on the mean streets of Nottingham. Then, in 1998, Meadows swapped small-town DIY filmmaking for the respectability of BBC Films with ‘TwentyFourSeven’, a gentle, black-and-white tale of kids training at a local boxing club which reflected his passion for the sport. And while Meadows himself might dismiss the later ‘Once Upon a Time in the Midlands’ (2002) as a big-budget mistake born of misjudgement and ego, he still shot that film, like all his others, on home turf in the east Midlands.‘This is England’ is no different. Set in 1982 and concerned with a sensitive, slightly lost 11-year-old kid called Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), it’s Meadows’s most autobiographical work to date. It bears some key similarities to his strongest, darkest films, ‘A Room for Romeo Brass’ (1999) and ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ (2004). In both, a young boy or teenager is led astray in sinister fashion by an older character or characters.
In the first, it is Paddy Considine’s local weirdo Morell who takes an impressionable Romeo (Andrew Shim) under his wing. In the second, it’s a bunch of Lotus-eating wasters and bruisers who adopt as their plaything the mentally handicapped Anthony (Toby Kebbell) – with horrible consequences. Much the same transpires in ‘This is England’: Shaun joins a gang of older skinheads and soon becomes embroiled in the racist politics and violence of the National Front. Towards the film’s closing, we witness a terrible act of violence that is executed largely to impress this boy in man’s clothing – red braces, Ben Sherman shirt, boots and all.

It was a real-life version of this fictional tragedy which inspired Meadows to write the film, which is based on some of his experiences as an 11-year-old skinhead in early ’80s Uttoxeter. ‘Bizarrely, it all came about from watching the documentary, “In Shane’s Shoes” that was an extra on the DVD of “Dead Man’s Shoes”,’ he says. ‘When I watched that and saw myself talking about this time when I was a skinhead and hanging out with skinheads, it hit me that there was probably an idea in there that was a prequel to everything else that I’ve ever made.’

Author: Dave Calhoun



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