TV Review: This is England ’90 – Episode 1

This first episode does not quite live up to what we expect from the This is England franchise, but it isn’t entirely unredeemable either, says

★★★☆☆

Image: Channel 4

Image: Channel 4

Shane Meadows’ award-winning drama This is England returns for its last and final outing as This is England ’90 and this time, for a change, things are looking bright for the gang. Aptly named ‘Spring’, the first episode shows the blossoming of a settled life for its main focus, Lol (Vicky McClure) and Woody (Joseph Gilgun), who, although not exactly in domestic bliss, seem to be making the best of what they have. Along with Kelly, Shaun, Milky, Gadget and the rest of the gang, there appears to be quite an air of languid contentment. I mean, things aren’t all sunshine and flowers, but life is stirring and the cold bitterness of This is England ‘86 and ‘88 is fading. Although, if the past series are anything go by and if the seasonal metaphor continues over the four episodes, I doubt this optimism will last.

There are two ways to approach This is England ’90. If you’ve never seen any of the previous works before, it’s more than likely you’re going to love This is England ’90, it’s going to be fresh, gritty, funny, raw and (probably it most used description) real. If you have seen the previous film and mini-series before the first episode may come across a bit differently. It does show all the elements we love about This is England still working very well. Great examples of this are the scenes between Woody and his parents, where the realistic and offhanded dialogue used creates this authenticity that makes the scenes so funny and entertaining. Meadows is even known to have told his cast not to rehearse the script in order to create this improvised and natural tone.  However, it’s no longer new and fresh, and this begs the question whether the format of This is England, is beginning to wear thin.

Something about this first episode certainly leaves a lot to be desired. It is quite stagnant and the storyline is slow. That gutsy, heart wrenching drama that made the show outstanding doesn’t seem to be there or even be being set up. Apart from an altercation between a love struck Shaun and Smell’s new boyfriend, there isn’t much happening.  However, this is part of the charm of This is England. The scenes of people just sitting around smoking, chatting, and not just about themselves but about general life, is what makes it genuine and honest. Moreover, as I’ve said before, it’s unlikely this tone will last through out the series, and in trusting the talent of Meadows, the ground-breaking drama and emotion will return.

What this first episode does do well is explore the world of the 90s in which the series takes place. It starts with Milky, Shaun and Gadget loitering outside Lol’s school kitchen waiting for their ‘nostalgic’ school dinner. The ‘nostalgia’ being what’s key for the audience in This is England ‘90. The episode paints this captivating picture of a time before the computers and smart-phones of the 21st Century but after the rebellious and riotous 80s; where teenagers like Shaun and Kelly would just sit around and instead of staring at their phones, just stare at nothing at all; where watching TV meant watching whatever was on, even if that is, in Woody’s case, a documentary on Amazonian tribes, because there was no digital TV or endless catch-up services (there wasn’t even Netflix).

Although the first episode of This is England ‘90 wasn’t quite the best This is England has had to offer, there were still some gems to remind us why we love these characters so much. A decent start but there is definitely room for improvement, and hopefully Meadows will deliver a brilliant send off for This is England over the next three weeks.

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