Interview: Shane Meadows – 'If this is the last one, it needs to fulfil its promise. That brings with it a certain pressure'
Director discusses the final series of This Is England … but never say never
This is England (2006) followed the lives and loves of a group of young skinheads in 1983. The gang returned for TV spin offs This Is England '86 and This is England '88. 'With a 90-minute film, it sounds like a lot of time but weirdly, when you’ve got all these incredible characters, you can’t follow ten lives, whereas a series is a beautiful thing, in so much as you can look at a lot of different people,' explains writer / director Shane Meadows. 'One person can have an arc through one episode, it’s like their own feature film.'
The follow up, This is England '90, was originally slated for 2012 but was delayed by three years while Meadows got side-tracked, taking the opportunity to indulge in one of his musical passions with the feature-length documentary charting The Stone Roses reunion, Made of Stone. 'There’s a blessing and a curse to the gap,' adds Meadows.' The curse could be that people might not be interested any more, but it feels like the opposite has happened. The blessing is that we’ve had a bit of reflection time, to look at all the stories, and to figure out how to do justice to the last series. If this is the last one, it needs to fulfil its promise. That brings with it a certain pressure.'
This is England always felt like a project very close to Meadows' heart. There are elements that mirror his own life growing up in the West Midlands, and This Is England '90 continues to chart British youth culture. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as a new decade dawns, the characters have embraced the baggy sounds of The Happy Mondays and Stone Roses and the early club culture.
Meadows specialises in capturing the drama and comedy of everyday life, as showcased in early features A Room For Romeo Brass (1999) and Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002). At its core This is England is about friendship, and Meadows has created an incredibly realistic and likable ensemble cast (headed by Joseph Gilgun, Vicky McClure, Thomas Turgoose and Michael Socha) many of whom hadn't really acted before the original film.
Meadows is renowned for his relaxed directorial style coaxing naturalist performances from his performers. 'I’d never been to film school,' he says. 'When I was first directing, and I didn’t have any money, I was directing people who I’d been with at college, or people who lived near me. They weren’t actors. I gained a massive amount of confidence from getting them to act. They didn’t have any preconceived ideas. So I then felt that working with people who didn’t really know how to do it was actually a kind of benefit to me, because I don’t really have a recognised technique.'
Even though Meadows has stated this will be the final series he's finding it hard to close the door completely: 'Well, if it finished here, I’d have absolutely no regrets. But I can’t say never. It’s impossible to say never … this feels like an end. It has a full stop, even if it’s only in pencil.'
This is England '90 premieres on Channel 4, Sun 13 Sep.