This Is England returned to our screens last night with ‘Spring’, the first of four episodes set in 1990. So enter psychedelic prints, bleached hair and bucket hats.
But aside from the fashion, what else did we learn from the return of Shane Meadows’ much-loved document of provincial England?
1. A new decade brings new hope
The extended opening credits act as a history refresher of our setting: Margaret Thatcher is on her way out of Downing Street (matched perfectly to ‘There She Goes’ by The La’s), and England’s World Cup nearlymen are helping to banish memories of ’80s hooliganism and terrace tragedies. A brave new world or a false dawn? We all know how the decade panned out, but what will it bring for Shaun, Milky, Woody, Lol and the rest of the gang?
2. It’s all about the Stone Roses
We’ve already had The La’s, and episode one also makes a big feature of Stone Roses’ era-defining ‘Fools Gold’. An obvious choice perhaps, but let’s remember that Ian Brown fans probably don’t come bigger than Shane Meadows, who had to delay the making of This Is England 90 while he was finishing Made of Stone, his love letter documentary about the Mancunian band.
3. The gang still like a hustle or two
Channel 4 / Dean Rogers
We re-enter the characters’ world as Milky (Andrew Shim) is involved in some kind of low-level plot to steal school dinners from the canteen where Lol (Vicky McClure) is working, and the dismayed reaction to “coffee whip” as a replacement for custard is guaranteed to take you right back to that dinner hall queue of your childhood. But unless there’s some major plotline involving school dinners, it feels like an indulgent distraction, which can’t be easy to justify in a four-episode run.
4. Shaun is unlucky in love
He might be four years older, but baby-faced Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is still having to endure a bumpy road to adulthood – especially in the love stakes. He seeks out his old flame Smell (Rosamund Hanson), who is now at art college, only to be told that she’s seeing someone else. Turgoose is as convincing as ever as the troubled teen, even if his reaction to that bombshell is a little OTT.
5. Lol and Woody are living the domestic life
Channel 4 / Dean Rogers
As ever, it’s Joe Gilgun as Woody who steals any scene he’s in. Now heavily bearded and heavily tattoo’d (time has passed, see?), he’s looking after the kids while Lol (Vicky McClure) is out working in the aforementioned canteen. But when his parents try to suggest a change to their domestic setup, Woody takes offence to the suggestion that they’re “struggling”. Cue one of the ad-libbed scenes that Meadows does better than anyone other director, as a family meeting descends into petty sniping. The apologetic phone call from his rambling Dad is even better, and anyone who’s ever tried to get off the phone from their parents will absolutely relate.
6. ‘Sniff-banging’ was a thing
Much of the comedy in episode one is provided by Flip and Higgy, two local losers with grand opinions of themselves, who approach Michael Socha’s drug dealer Harvey for a small amount of “Pat Cash”. They’re planning to use this in a bizarre sex game called “sniff-banging”, which Shane Meadows insists was a thing, despite most of Twitter going ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
They carry out their masterplan in the “VIP area” of the social club, after luring a girl called Sonia upstairs. While Meadows is clearly looking to freshen things up with these two new additions to the cast, it feels like he’s trying to force some slapstick comedy into a drama where the comedy has always come more naturally.
7. The inevitable rave scene wasn’t all euphoria and bliss
Channel 4 / Dean Rogers
Despite looking a bit tame, the first clubbing scene of the new series at least tried to show that ’90s nightlife wasn’t all Human Traffic-style matey euphoria. Shaun, who’s been hard at it on bongs and booze, reacts violently at the end of the night, when Smell’s new beau tries to clear the tension between them.
8. Combo has yet to make an entrance
If the opening episode was not much more than a scene-setter, fans of This Is England can at least look forward to one of the show’s most combustible forces at some point soon. Stephen Graham is a fantastic actor, and Combo, his hateful skinhead, is sure to shake things up whenever Meadows decides to unleash him into the mix.
9. It’s not all 100% accurate
The only downfall of This Is England '90 was when they went sci-fi and had a time travelling goth in a Hatebreed t-shirt four years early.
— Gary Cassidy (@consciousgary) September 13, 2015
While the attention to detail was generally pretty good, several
pedants eagle-eyed fans spotted that Smell was wearing at T-shirt with the band Hatebreed emblazoned on it – a band which didn’t form until 1994.
This Is England returns to Channel 4 on Sunday night at 9pm.