There’s a huge amount of anticipation surrounding Shane Meadows’ This Is England 90, the latest instalment of his spectacular anthology, which is back on our screens this Sunday.
Five frustratingly long years after the last offering, This Is England 90 is the latest in a series which has taken us on a seven year journey beginning in 1983, with the 2006 film which introduced us to a group of disenchanted youths in the Midlands.
In this series we start to look at the summer of love – the excitement of rave, Acid House, Madchester and ecstasy sweeping over the group of friends.
Meadows has said ominously of This Is England 90 that “the drugs become more serious. Things start to change – for the better for some, and for the worse for others.”
What sets TIE apart is that it has never been allowed to lapse into rose-tinted nostalgia. The whole anthology has been gritty, real and resolute in the unpleasant social issues it presents, much akin to the kitchen sink realism of filmmakers like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.
It is also undeniable that the passion of the cast and the characters created by Meadows is second to none. The director told Film 4:
“I remember watching Romper Stomper and within the first ten minutes 40 people had been beaten up. I couldn’t give a shit about any single one of them. The same with American History X. I think what people like about my films is a kind of simplistic human depth, and the ambition with This Is England was to make people care about one beating.”
Well, he certainly succeeded. It’s impossible not to be emotionally invested in the cast of This is England as their characters evolve through the difficulties of growing up in the disadvantaged Midlands of the 1980s.
In anticipation of Woody, Lol, Shaun and the gang hitting our screens this weekend, here are 21 things you (probably) didn’t know about This Is England and its cast…
1. Thomas Turgoose was cast for the role of Shaun Field at the age of 13
… but he only agreed to go to the call back after making Shane Meadows pay him a fiver (which apparently later became a tenner, a PlayStation and then a mobile phone).
2. And he had zero acting experience
Turgoose was originally scouted at The Space Project – a scheme for socially disadvantaged kids in Grimsby. At the time, his only experience of acting was being rejected for a role as an extra in a school play due to bad behaviour.
3. This is England changed his life
He has since said that his role in TIE was pivotal, saving him from a potential life of crime. His mum died in 2005 and the original film is dedicated to her. The support of Meadows and the cast after her death was overwhelming, with Andrew Shim (Milky) and Stephen Graham (Combo) making a “gentlemen’s agreement” that they would always be there for him.
4. The character of Shaun was autobiographical
Meadows has said that the character of 11 year old protagonist Shaun is very much based on his own early life experiences, growing up in an estate on Uttoxeter and joining a skinhead gang at the age of 11 himself.
5. It wasn’t only Turgoose that Meadows plucked out of obscurity…
Meadows often prefers to work with undiscovered and amateur actors, and for most of the cast in the film this was their first experience of professional acting.
6. Milky and Lol were a couple in real life
Shim (Milky) and Vicky McClure (Lol) were at one point a couple in real life. Apparently, Shim had held a flame for her since they both starred in Meadow’s A Room For Romeo Brass in 1999, and finally plucked up the courage to ask her out. McClure is now in a relationship with Jonny Owen (Shameless, Wedding Belles).
7. Turgoose almost gave up filming after the first week
But Meadows encouraged him to pull through, saying:
“If you turn your back on this now I honestly believe you’ll regret it for the rest of your life, because if you don’t work your way through this, you’ll never work your way through anything.”
8. Most of the cast are too young to remember the rave culture of the 90s
Their frame of reference is more along the lines of Roland Rat and Kylie and Jason. McClure has admitted that she didn’t have a great knowledge of the music, saying to NME: “I only really discovered The Stone Roses about four years ago, but I went to Heaton Park and loved it.”
9. Meadows once had his entry rejected from a local film festival because they didn’t accept video tape
Ever determined, he organised his own film festival – hiring out a local porn cinema as a venue. There were only 15 seats in the cinema and about 80 people turned up, so they had to show the tapes in batches.
10. The cast all agree that being part of This Is England has changed their life
They refer to each other as a ‘family’ and are so wrapped up in the whole experience that they call each other their character names off screen, rather than their real names.
11. Meadows was in a band with actor Paddy Considine
They were called She Talks To Angels (inspired by the Black Crowes song of the same name) and when asked what they sounded like, Meadows replied: “absolutely amazing.”
12. The film was shot on the St Anne’s estate in Nottingham
While fairly recent in terms of ‘period’ drama, portraying the eighties accurately is more difficult than it sounds. Simple things like satellite dishes and PVC windows give away the too recent past and the Notts estate was exactly what Meadows had been searching for.
13. All of the coastal scenes in the 2006 film were shot in Grimsby
The same place that they found their lead actor, Turgoose.
14. Meadows had an array of jobs before making it in the film industry
His previous roles ranged from a clown’s assistant to a stint in steel erecting.
15. Andrew Shim has had an array since…
As well as working in IT, he has trained as a mixed martial artist.
16. Many of the scenes are improvised and ad-libbed
Meadows actively discourages the cast from learning their lines. He prefers to sit and chat to them about something completely unrelated to their scene, like boxing, before they go on set.
17. Meadows hates filming sex scenes
He has said: “Emotionally, I’ll send someone to hell, but when it comes to a girl taking her clothes off, I really struggle.”
18. This is said to be the last ever series
…but with Meadows saying “never say never” there is hope for us yet. He has said in a statement:
“I don’t have that feeling that I have to come back after ’90 – but at the same time, it’s probably a full stop that’s written in pencil.”
19. The ending of This is England 90 might not be what you expect….
Don’t worry, no spoilers. Joe Gilgun (Woody) was surely joking when he told the NME:
“There’s gonna be an apocalypse, that’s how we’re gonna end it. There’s gonna be an apocalyptic event where Lol massacres the entire gang with a fucking machine gun…”
20. Meadows is a generous boss
At the beginning of TIE 88 Meadows gifted every cast member a Sony Bloggie – a tiny camera the size of a mobile phone that shoots in HD – so that they could film behind the scenes footage.
21. However, his gifts come with conditions
A “£1,000 fine for penis shots,” Meadows told the Guardian. “And if they put their willy on someone else’s phone, we’ll have to do a line up – that’ll be a double fine. Actors are very cunning, they’re very deceitful people.”
This is England 90 begins on Channel 4 on Sunday (13 Sep) at 9pm.
Watch the trailer: