Spoiler warning: If you haven’t seen all of the This Is England series, turn back now!
Recently, Shane Meadows, writer and director of the fantastic 2006 film This Is England and its TV miniseries sequels This Is England ’86, ’88, and ’90, announced that the final series, which aired back in September 2015, is in fact not to be the end of the story. Previously, This Is England ’90 was believed to be the last on-screen outing for our favourite young skinheads, but Shane Meadows announced in May that he plans to reunite the cast, not for another miniseries, but for another feature-length film to end the saga in style.
As a huge fan of the original film and series, my mind immediately began racing to imagine the possibilities, and left me desperate to know what happens to these characters we’ve all grown to know and love over the last decade. So in anticipation of the final film, I’ve put together a list of the reasons to be excited for the return of This Is England.
1. The Soundtrack
Music has always had a prominent part in TIE, just as it plays an important role in the lives of most young people like the ones that the series portrays. Aside from composer Ludovico Einaudi’s stunning piano-driven scores, the series has always perfectly and accurately soundtracked the characters’ lives throughout the 1980s, from the original film’s classic ska and reggae cuts from bands like Toots and the Maytals all the way to The Stone Roses and the emergence of the rave scene in the final series. In all likelihood, the final film should take place in the early-mid ‘90s, leaving a wealth of options for the soundtrack, with the emergence of Britpop seeming an obvious choice. Will the gang’s exploits still be soundtracked by their beloved reggae and mod songs, or will Oasis, Blur, Pulp, and Suede become part of their lives?
2. The Fashions
Fashion has been used expertly on TIE to instantly conjure a sense of time and place, and represent the sense of unity and belonging of being part of a “tribe”. Over the course of the series, we saw the gang move from shaved heads, braces, and Doc Martens through various outlandish looks, ending up with older characters such as Woody and Lol adopting a more toned-down, suburban style while others moved towards more questionable choices (Gadget’s bucket hat and colourful hoodie combination, anyone?). Where will they go next?
Although TIE has always centred around realism, with most of the drama taking place in people’s homes and streets, the idea of a feature-length film with a larger budget creates the prospect of more technically ambitious scenes. In This Is England ’90, the gang attempted to go to a huge outdoor rave, but instead got lost and ended up at a much smaller new-age gathering, possibly due to budget constraints making a large rave scene impossible. With the success of the series, the film could possibly have a larger budget than ever before, leading to all sorts of possibilities.
4. Shaun’s Story
Shaun, played brilliantly by Thomas Turgoose, started out as a complex and relatable character. He was the protagonist of the original film, but over the course of the series’ his role took a backseat with characters such as Lol, Woody, Milky, and Gadget becoming more important. Although Shaun’s relationship with Smell and its disastrous breakdown provided some much-needed drama to Shaun’s story, by the final series Shaun was reduced to a supporting character, with his storyline centred around his struggles to get into college seeming a little less gripping than Milky and Combo’s tense reunion and Kelly’s descent into addiction. The conclusion to Shaun’s story seemed a little rushed and unsatisfying, with the final episode showing him getting into college and beginning a relationship with a classmate, with little tension or build-up to this resolution. It would be great to see Shaun get a little more involved with the drama of the rest of the gang and get some excitement back in his story.
5. What really happened to Combo?
Combo was one of the most interesting characters in the story, his jealousy and violent rage at society equalled only by his intense (but tragically futile) love for Lol. Stephen Graham perfectly portrayed a flawed, broken character who evolved from a violent, racist thug to an older, world-weary man hell-bent on redemption. In the final episode, he seemingly met his demise, revenge for his brutal beating of Milky at the end of the original film. Delivered at first to members of Milky’s family, and then to a pair of white skinheads, who dragged him crying and screaming to the top of an abandoned industrial building, the last we heard of Combo was him pleading for his life. But there are many questions to be asked about this scene. Were the white skinheads just hired hitmen? Or were they members of Combo’s old gang, determined to dish out grisly revenge for his abandoning of his old racist ideals? Either way, Combo’s end was never seen, and I have a feeling that some questions are still to be answered…
6. What will happen to Milky?
In the final episodes, Milky’s usual jovial, laid-back demeanour was replaced by a feeling of betrayal from his friends Lol and Woody for their acceptance of Combo. We see in the final episode that the past isn’t so easily forgotten for Milky, and any shred of forgiveness he may possibly feel towards Combo certainly isn’t shared by his vengeful family. After Milky delivers Combo to his uncertain fate, we see him a while later at Woody and Lol’s wedding, where he is visibly distant and troubled. When Lol asks him earnestly if he knows of Combo’s whereabouts, the two are interrupted by the entrance of a drunken Gadget and Harvey. After the joyous final montage of the gang drunkenly dancing and laughing together in celebration of Lol and Woody’s marriage and the return of Kelly, the final shot shows Milky, alone and alienated from his friends. Does Milky know exactly what happened to Combo? Will he forgive Lol and Woody for their acceptance of him? Will Lol and Woody find out Milky’s role in Combo’s disappearance, and what will become of their friendship? So much still hangs in the balance, and so much remains to be seen.
7. Is Kelly still hiding something?
Over the course of the last series, we saw Lol’s younger sister Kelly move from a background character to have a more prominent role. Her party-loving ways began to take over her life, and after a series of traumatic events and revelations, she ended up a heroin addict living in a drug den, away from the friends and family who cared for her. After an emotional reunion with Lol and the gang in the final scenes of the series, it seemed that her future was looking bright. But on closer viewing, it’s hard to not wonder if she was being entirely honest about getting back on the straight and narrow. After telling Lol that she stopped using heroin a few weeks ago, I began to question the truth. After all, she had still up to that point been living in a drug den, and it seems hard to accept that she would have given it up but continued to live with heroin users for a few weeks before deciding to leave. Something doesn’t quite add up…
As excellent as the ending of the series was, the characters’ stories are clearly far from over. I for one hope that plans for another film come to fruition, and can’t wait for another incredible mix of drama and comedy, music and fashion, and the return of our favourite characters.