It’s impossible to talk about UK independent film directors without at least mentioning Shane Meadows’ film “This is England”. It is considered as one of the best UK independent films and is basically compulsory viewing if you consider yourself British. In fact, the film was so successful that three television sequels were made, each taking place during the 80s (This is England ’86, This is England 88’ and This is England 90’).
The film is set in the summer of 1983 and is a social commentary on life as a working class Brit in the aftermath of the Falklands War and Thatcher’s Britain; where mass unemployment is rife and racism and xenophobia are on the rise. The film is semi-autobiographical, and is the story of 12-year-old Shaun, wandering aimlessly around town until he meets and befriends Woody and his skinhead gang. Life with his new group of friends is simple until Combo (an old member of Woody’s gang) is released from prison and tensions arise within the group. It quickly emerges that Combo has developed racist and xenophobic views in prison; and easily impressionable Shaun must choose between sweet and mild tempered Woody, versus racist and bitter Combo.
Shane Meadows was born and brought up in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire and most of his films are based on his experiences growing up in this area. Unfortunately, Shane’s childhood was marred by violence as his father once discovered the body of a murder victim and was initially a suspect in the case. This led to Shane being bullied and ostracized by other schoolchildren. It is possible that this experience helped shape the brutal realism of his films.
Meadows left school before reaching his O levels, and turned to petty crime. However, he realised that he did not make a very good criminal, and decided to try out filmmaking. Indeed, he volunteered for Nottingham based firm Intermedia Film and Video ltd and in return for his services was allowed to borrow camcorders and use video editing equipment. Meadows started making films with his friends but they increasingly grew frustrated, as there were no festivals in the area where they could screen their films. For this reason they decided to create their own festival called “Six of the Best” which took place every few months in a local old cinema. For a small fee filmmakers could have their films screened in the cinema to an audience. The event became more and more successful and eventually became known as an international video festival called ‘Flip Side’.
The first of Shane Meadows’ films to receive acclaim was “Where’s the money? Ronnie?” This led to Channel 4 asking him to direct a documentary called “King of the Gypsies”, which was about a bare-knuckle boxer named Bartley Gorman, born in Uttoxeter, and whom Meadows knew well. Following the success of this documentary Meadows was eventually able to make his first full-length feature film called Twentyfour Seven, and thereafter began a successful filmmaking career. All throughout Meadows has created fascinating stories with characters who are much beloved by the British public.