TV review: This is England '90, Channel 4 (4 stars)

Fourth and final instalment in Shane Meadows drama series

TV review: This is England '90, Channel 4

Over one movie and three TV series writer / director Shane Meadows has taken the time to flesh out the cast of characters that populate This is England. It's an unusual set up as the same actors from the original 2006 feature film have returned for each subsequent miniseries and we have watched these characters grow and develop in almost real time. We started with skinhead culture in an unspecified West Midlands town in 1983 and now we bow out in the 90s. Meadows has stated that four part series, This is England '90, will be the final chapter. The three year gap since the last instalment (set in 1988) due to Meadows taking a sabbatical to make feature length doc The Stone Roses: Made of Stone. And the spirit of Madchester bleeds into England '90.

We open with Lol (Vicky McClure) working as a dinner lady although she seems to spend half her time feeding Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), Gadget (Andrew Ellis), Milky (Andrew Shim) and the crew. Woody (Joseph Gilgun) is now a house husband looking after the kids while Shaun is pinning for Smell (Rosamund Harris) who's gone all goth. Ska has fallen by the wayside as baggy, rave and smiley faces have taken over. There have been no giant leaps forward, this life in a deprived area with few prospects.

Skilfully capturing the era. The titles are a masterwork in condensing an entire year into a few short minutes – splicing together images of the World Cup, Thatcher and the Strangeways Riots – backed up by everything from the soundtrack, the fashions to the TV shows we catch the characters watching (including a spirited discussion on the homosexual nature of WWF wrestling).

It's a real skill making ordinary lives and scenes of smoking dope, playing videogames or talking rubbish interesting. Capturing life behind closed doors in suburbia, council houses and high rises. Although Miami Vice wannabes Flip (Perry Fitzpatrick) and Higgy (Joe Dempsie) are slightly over played with their bleached blonde hair and comedy moustaches. Things will take a darker turn as the series progresses – Combo (Stephen Graham) is set to reappear after serving seven years in prison for manslaughter – but it's nice to see TIE return with a comedic episode (Woody's a cappella rendition of 'Fools Gold' is priceless).

Like a more serious take on The Royal Family, England '90 finds beauty in naturalistic conversations about nothing. The cast are so comfortable in their roles, the characters feel utterly believable and even with their many flaws it's hard not to root for them as they bumble through life.

This is England premières on Channel 4, Sun 13 Sep, 9pm.


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