“This is England ‘86” lacks some of the focus of the previous film “This is England” (”This is England ‘83” I suppose), and I’m not sure it totally earns its runtime. Yet when director Shane Meadows focuses on the main driver of the story, sexual assault, instead of just following up on characters from the first film (which is still undeniably interesting, but a lot more rudderless than the “main” material), it works a lot better.
The depiction of sexual assault, how characters react to it, it’s all painfully grounded and real, and extremely uncomfortable viewing, much moreso than the first film’s depiction of bigotry and racism. There’s less of a specific theme and idea here, the way there was in the first film’s depiction of how bigotry gestates among the hard-done-by, but the added runtime makes the realism of the series hit even harder as Meadows takes more time with everything.
Vicky McClure is easily the standout here, and Joseph Gilgun continues to do great work, but the rest of the characters don’t really get the same quality of material. There’s less of a sense of place and time here too, although it is tethered to the 1986 World Cup.
It’s harrowing, painful, grounded viewing, stronger than the first film when it really gets going, but ultimately more aimless and inconsistent. Still, when it works, it really works. I give it three and a half scooters, and an itchy sweater.