Moreso than “This is England ‘86”, “This is England ‘88” really dives down on how there are rarely easy happy endings in real life.
The way director Shane Meadows has extended the series beyond a single film to cover multiple entries with the actors ageing in real time (most visible in Thomas Turgoose’s striking development) makes me think of that Orson Welles quote, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story”. Much as people like to smooth over things socially (sometimes going for peace over justice and honesty), some things just don’t heal easily, if at all, and that’s conveyed really effectively in “This is England ‘88”.
Here, the setting isn’t as effective or relevant as 1983 England was in the first film, so there’s less of that sense of “both the characters and the nation are growing up and dealing with the loss of romanticism, things changing irrevocably”, but it’s conveyed through the characters here better than in Meadow’s earlier entries. It’s hard to sympathise with some of the characters, but easy to relate to them…they’re so grounded and real that it’s uncomfortable at times. Still, a lot of the subplots with them here are extremely extraneous, and it really does harm the overall story.
Bigotry was very much a messy business, socially and ideologically, in the first film, but the more general issue of relationships deteriorating here is even trickier to isolate. Ultimately I don’t think it was quite up to it, as it disappointedly retreats to some almost trite simplicity at the end, but it was an impressive effort nonetheless. Perhaps “This is England ‘90” untangles some of that simplicity, the way this did to “This is England ‘86”. In any case, I give it three and a half play tickets, and some prison food.