This review contains spoilers.
This Is England ‘90 hadn’t been on two minutes before someone said the n-word. Why does Gadge say he queues up outside Lol’s kitchen for hooky school dinners? Nostalgia. He wants to eat what he used to eat when he was a kid and he was happy.
That’s an undeniable part of this series’ attraction. Hearing the music, seeing the clothes and watching them watch the telly we used to when we were kids and we were happy. (What cold, adult heart wasn’t instantly warmed by the sound of the words ‘mint’ and ‘custard’? Or jolted into gleeful reminiscence at the sight of Contra on the NES and Take The High Road on ITV?)
Nostalgia though, is just the flashing neon arrow showing people the way in to This Is England. The bucket hats, JNCO jeans, the Roses and the Mondays might be what draws the crowds, but they’re not the reason they stay. That’s the job of the characters. They make this series so much more than simply the drama equivalent of an ‘I Heart The Nineties’ talking heads show.
We’ve been to hell with Vicky McClure and Joseph Gilgun’s Lol and Woody, and by the looks of episode one, they made their way back without us. We don’t know how the couple went from sitting in that hospital lounge to sitting on a messy sofa covered cheerily in baby food, but what a relief it is to see them there.
Spring, the first of four new episodes from Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne, found Lol and Woody in a little-expected but much-deserved place. They’re happy. As Woody told his parents, they may look a bag of shit, but their family’s content. Woody’s no longer going against his grain and turning into someone he despises at the factory, and Lol’s no longer isolated from family and friends, she’s surrounded by them both at home and at work.
Other wounds have been healed too. Woody and Milky are brothers again, each one a father to Lol’s two kids and in cahoots over the school dinners racket. Chrissy’s now in a loving lesbian relationship. Trev is smiling again. The spectre of Lol’s dad appears to have been exorcised, only making an appearance through one of Woody’s off-the-cuff remarks. If you’d braced yourself for tragedy after being put through the wringer by the previous series, you needn’t have troubled. It’s almost as if the fractures and trauma of ’86 and ’88 never happened. For now at least.
Spring was a mostly light-hearted reintroduction to the gang. Clowns Flip and Higgy were back providing comic relief (and, with sniffbanging, winning the award for TV’s least dignified sex scene of the year. Well, until Girls returns perhaps), Gadge and Harvey, now the estate’s dealers, were still talking entertaining rubbish, Woody’s parents and Mr Squires were back on cringeworthy form, and the fine tradition of gang scuffle was honoured by Shaun v Goth.
Shaun’s romantic gloom over Smell, now an art student going by Michelle, was the one low note in an otherwise knockabout, comic hour. Closing the episode by showing Shaun weeping on his dad’s memorial statue reminded us of the kid we met in the original 2006 film, and proved that This Is England does have a long memory, even if the rest of the episode seemed to want to shrug off the misery of its past.
Be warned though, if you’re watching simply to bathe in the nostalgic warmth of the soundtrack and wardrobe, This Is England has a way of yanking you in to share its pain. Previous runs of have taught us never to get too comfortable. It’s the habitual job of the first episode to acclimatise us to the period, set the scene and take us on a tour of the characters’ progress since we last met. The real drama comes afterwards.
We’ve no hint yet as to what form this series’ crisis will take, or which characters will have to shoulder it, but we can be sure about one thing: by the time the credits roll on Winter, it won’t be all coffee whip and de de de ding ding a dingading a flinkashank a wankadingdong.
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