The 4th in my series on great British Directors, I bring you my personal appreciation of three stunning British films from Director Shane Meadows.
I rather like them, as you may gather in the next five minutes of your life! I hope you enjoy my take on these three classics of recent British Cinema History.
"God will forgive them. He'll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can't live with that"
(Gary Stretch) A stellar performance from former boxer Stretch. His first appearance smoking a joint and playing cards, sets the scene for his performance of seeming control over his illegal enterprises and of his small but tight crew of loyal friends. Forever exerting control over the crew and similar to Richard as he leads from the front. His reactions to the deaths of his friends is so key, of his utter desolation at his loss. The silent prayer or maybe a fix of concentration as the crew prepare to enter the farm is brilliantly portrayed. A stand out performance.
Oh come on! Even in a film of this intensity, who doesn't want to see Gary Stretch made up as a clown?
(Stuart Wolfenden) The smallest of the main performances yet equally the most crucial and the film's true blackest of comedic moments. A drug dealer who's wide boy style quickly unravels wrapped in paranoia and fear of the consequences of his actions. His joint scenes (pun intended) with crew members "Tuff" (Paul Sadot) and "Soz" (Neil Bell) are hilarious and tragic in equal measure. The joint scenes with Richard both crucial and frightening to the core. A brilliant yet mainly unrecognised performance.
Favourite scene: "He had these massive eyes man, I'm telling ya!" Herbie, frightened out of his wits, stoned and paranoid. His third such meeting with Richard.
Written by Director Meadows and Paddy Considine (with additional material from Paul Fraser) and shot in just three weeks with a stellar cast of great British actors and friends of the cast, I love this film on a deeply personal level and I hope I've done this review with a semblance of justice. The above appraisal is perhaps 5-10% total of the film as a spoiler free taster as possible. The film is essential viewing. It's simply astonishing.
This is England (2006)
The opening credits alone set the tone, juxtaposing the fantastic images of the 1980's, the Rubik's Cube, of CD's being pressed for the first time, of the brave women of CND campaigning against the installation of Nuclear Warheads to the uglier memories some of us have, of the National Front, the police brutality of the striking miner's and of Margaret Thatcher.
The picture painted is of a melting pot of ideas and ideals, styles of dress and of being associated with being "different", an individual within a different style of class and culture. This culture clash is also shown both positively and negatively and of the attitudes of Mods/Skins/70's/New Wave and numerous other sub styles and cultures. The excellent cast reflect this, as does the incredible soundtrack including classics from Toots and the Maytails "54 46 Was my Number" over the opening credits, and many more from The Specials, Percy Sledge, Dexys Midnight Runners and Soft Cell. The soundtrack alone is highly recommended.
The Director deserves special praise, for his film propels like an aeroplane through it's 101 minute running time with characters you care deeply for, root for and surrounded by a definite 1980's tinge throughout. With subtle jump cuts and frenetic editing and highly effective slow motion sequences, the film is a joy from start to finish. Reflective of the times, it is deeply racist (at times) with heavy drug use and sporadic bursts of graphic violence. But this simply masks a triumph of a film that is deeply and darkly funny on occasion, as well as being flat out hysterical at others. The film, as well as the characters themselves have many contradictions that may surprise some. We see the film through the eyes of "Shaun".
The excellent (as always) Stephen Graham plays "Combo", an aggressive hard line skinhead returning from three years in prison. Graham's performance is frightening, yet it's his first meeting with Shaun that both impresses the most and through it's subtle performance, is key. Looking him up and down as he approaches, Combo presses Shaun, despite his age, teasing him mercilessly. Shaun, clearly keen to impress the newly returned leader of the crew looks aghast and frightened and seeking support. "I'm only messing with you" comes Combo's tension draining and laughter filled ending, but it's Stephen Graham's looks, his admiration, maybe his longing to be Shaun's age again, and to be starting the journey afresh and anew. Maybe?
With a brief but important cameo from Frank Harper as "Lenny", the aforementioned soundtrack and sublime acting performances, you can see the love, care and attention given to this film from Director Shane Meadows. With a screenplay also by Meadows himself and containing just 27 credited acting roles It's an astonishing film, and may break your heart. It does mine.
Picture the scene: Ian Brown, lead singer of The Stone Roses is walking in front of an excited crowd before the beginning of the band's much hyped and much anticipated reunion gig at Heaton Park, Manchester 2012. As he does so, in slow motion, there is an accompanying narration from Alfred Hitchcock from an old interview "I can't bear quarrelling. I can't bear feelings between people. I think hatred is a wasted energy". And therein lies an early metaphor for this outstanding documentary on one of the most beloved rock'n'roll bands of the 1980's and 1990's. Following years of back biting, recriminations, disputes, anger and categorical refusals to reform, The Stone Roses are about to triumphantly return to the stage in their home city of Manchester.
Director Shane Meadows and I have many things in common, a love of cinema, a lack of hair follicles and a deep love for The Stone Roses being just three and here he documents their return superbly. They're back, not quite from outer space, but if their rumoured drug use is to be believed, they're back from the hazy stratosphere and ready to rock again. This pleased the Director and I in almost equal measure for you see, I was an avid and unabashed Stone Roses fan from the very beginning. I adored (lazy song lyric pun intended) them from the very first listen of their self titled debut album as a disaffected college student in the late 1980's. Nothing quite equals listening to the opening drum beat of "I am the Resurrection" for the first time, perhaps only a few Radiohead songs, and that is high company indeed. It never fails to send a shiver down my spine and it's 8 minutes and 14 seconds of pure joy. But their comeback was a bitter sweet affair for me. I saw them play one of their last ever gigs at the Brighton Arena in 1996 just prior to their acrimonious split but I was selfishly safe in the knowledge that I could, in future years, proclaim I had seen The Stone Roses play. I had seen Reni banging the drums, I'd seen Mani bouncing with his bass guitar, I'd suffered Ian Brown (sorry Ian) shouting rather than singing, but I'd also seen John Squire playing his guitar in that effortless, sublime way of his. I left the gig on a high (quite literally) and I'd seen another band of my rock'n'roll heroes play live. So it was an entirely selfish notion not wanting them to reform. I still adore their second album "The Second Coming", despite it taking 147 years to complete (or so it seemed) and despite the universal disdain that everyone seemingly had for it.
And then they were gone, off to argue behind the scenes, create their own successful solo albums and their own individual rock histories. But then the rumours became fact and as fans we had The Stone Roses back together again. However, I didn't want those images, my images, sullied by their return. I was in a minority of one but however much I wanted to see John Squire show everyone how to really play a guitar again, I didn't want Ian Brown (sorry again Ian) shouting from a stage and I certainly didn't want to stand in a muddy Mancunian field watching them re-hash their hits. So I didn't go. This will of course be seen as heresy by most Stone Roses fans but I was there at the beginning, and then at the end, or was it the end of the beginning? So I settled for the next best thing, Shane Meadows devoted, loving and utterly brilliant documentary film.
Cue "I Wanna Be Adored" played in full over a montage of The Stone Roses' meteoric rise from obscurity and trying to be the "biggest band in Manchester" to fame, record company disputes, isolation, discontent, instability, litigation and finally an acrimonious and seemingly career ending split. This brilliant documentary continues in the same vein throughout, constantly jumping backward and forward in history using stock footage of days past and present day interviews intertwined with footage of the band as they prepare for their comeback gig(s). Director Meadows was given unparalleled access to the band during this time in order to capture this for posterity in the weeks leading up to their Heaton Park gig as a reformed and harmonious band. The film is sprinkled with cine film footage, photos and recollections all accompanied by songs from both albums and some rarer B-sides and although I have seen and heard all of these they all still remain as fresh and vibrant as ever. Many (in)famous incidents are also included and far too many to mention but the highlights are fresh faced Ian Brown and John Squire's 1989 interview prior to the release of their first album, their monosyllabic and piss take responses aside, there is also a prescient comment from Ian Brown "Hopefully people will form bands as a result of seeing us". Also included is the Japanese TV appearance "anyone want any fish?", the amazing overhead shots of their Spike Island gig, the eponymous Jackson Pollock paint inspired NME magazine covers and Mani throwing his guitar in anger at the 1995 Midtown Festival!
But the stand outs for me are the black and white recordings of their 2012 rehearsals as the band are full of laughs, in jokes and smiles but more importantly tightly knit and just sublime. Fan favourite "Waterfall" is wonderful but it's a joy to see John Squire play so effortlessly again and I was half joking above (sorry Ian) as Ian Brown sounds melodic and inspired. Unusually for a documentary, Director Meadows completes several "to camera" anecdotes throughout but two are terrific for differing reasons. One is when the band are on the verge of self destructing again and the disappointment in his face and voice are palpable. The second is priceless. Parr Hall, Warrington is the scene of the band's first warm up gig and the fan reaction both before and after is jealousy inducing but the band's reaction at the end of a triumphant gig is priceless too, with all four members embracing so tightly and so happy together but it's the embrace of Ian Brown and John Squire that shows how much this means both to them and the band. But it's the Director, stood at the side of the stage with a hand held camera and his exclamation of "Jesus Fucking Christ!" that shows how much this really means to us, the fans.
It's the ultimate fan tribute film by Shane Meadows, lovingly and indeed adored, in it's creation.
The Stone Roses are:
Gary "Mani" Mounfield
Alan "Reni" Wren