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What unites or divides people in This is England?

Module: Screening Europe
Module Coordinator: Dr Emma Austin
Academic Year 1 (2020/2021)

This is the second of six blog post essays for the module Screening Europe. I enjoyed writing about This is England, but in reflection some research to see what some academics had written about could have been used well.

This is England (Meadows, 2006), set in 1983, follows Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), a twelve-year-old who lost his father to the Falklands war. He is bullied at school and doesn’t have any friends until he stumbles upon Woody (Joseph Gilgun), who sees Shaun is upset and lonely, and invites him into their circle. The group has a dividing line drawn through it when Combo (Stephen Graham) returns from prison and challenges their views on the country and people around them.

When we first meet Combo and Banjo, Combo starts to tell a prison story and uses a racial slur which is the first instance of a dividing line being drawn through the group of friends. It is clear some of the group, including Milky, Woody and Lol, are uncomfortable with the story, but Combo continues to tell it regardless. When Shaun and Smell enter the room we get the sense that Combo wants to be the centre of attention at all times.

Shortly after this encounter, Combo calls everyone to a meeting. He starts off by apologising to Milky for the way he treated him the other evening, but quickly spins it onto Woody to make him out to be the bad guy, a ‘snake’, for not sticking up for Milky. Combo gives a speech about how he views immigrants living and working in England and starts to focus on Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands war.

Shaun lost his Dad in the war and lashes out at Combo, revealing to the group his loss. Combo uses this to fuel his argument, forming a literal line on the floor and tells everyone to stay where they are and join his cause and adopt his nationalist ideology, or to leave. Whilst we saw cracks forming within the group earlier, this is the first instance where the group is literally divided.

This is England is a somewhat autobiographical piece, as many of Shaun’s traits and experiences he experienced himself. Meadows didn’t set out to make a particularly political film but did admit in an interview with IndieLondon that it was “probably the closest thing to a political film I will ever make” (Meadows, n.d.). He also commented about the Falklands War:

Ultimately, I was privy to footage from ITN archives – that wasn’t shown on television – of the people we were fighting, and it was shameful. It was bullying. It was really horrible. How could we have been proud of winning that?

This clear shame surrounding the war is likely to be reflected in the character of Combo. I’m certainly not saying that the character of Combo is Meadows, but to have a character as extreme as Combo would make it easier to present such views that reflected the views of the general population during that period and the divisions in opinion within communities.

We later see Combo desperately trying to regain control by confessing his love to Lol, but when she rejects him, he attempts to make amends with Milky. However, Combo quizzes Milky about his extended family, which returns to his previous opinions of foreigners taking jobs and houses. Milky has a large extended family and appears to have ‘had it easy’ growing up, which triggers Combo into a rage.


  • Meadows, S. (n.d.). This Is England—Shane Meadows interview [Interview].
  • Meadows, S. (Director). (2006). This is England [Film]. Warp Films.