Moving Out, Moving On

I am currently writing this sat on my one remaining cushion on the floor of my flat, where there is no furniture, surrounded by the last remnants of my current life. It’s the stuff that has no category, the stuff that will inevitably end up in the ‘last box of shite … I promise this time it actually is’ box. I had already given this title to a box of what I can only describe as ‘odds and sods’ yesterday and upon seeing it my stepdad remarked ‘that’s definitely not the last, that’s the fucking first’ and well, reader, he was right.

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This week I am moving out, if you hadn’t already guessed. So, this isn’t so much a blog post more a diary entry, a space for reflection. It’s an interesting topic to reflect upon though, and one I imagine I share with a lot of people, so I’d like to offer my thoughts on the matter with you.

I’ve lived in my little flat for a year and a half. It’s in an old building, meaning the windows are beautiful (I’m very particular about windows), it’s in Stockport Old Town and it’s handily next door to where I work. My boss is my neighbour, which could potentially be weird apart from the fact we’re really good friends. I have loved being so close to this little community. Due to working in hospitality I am free when many of my friends are busy and being able to essentially just bob downstairs and be surrounded by people has been comforting and fun. I never worry about getting home, I’m right in the middle of everything, I can decide what I fancy doing with my day on the spot and achieve it. One Sunday I decided I wanted to see an exhibition in Liverpool that was on its final day and within half an hour of accessing this information I was on a train and on my way.

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Living in the thick of it has been both positive and arguably negative for me. A year and a half ago was to be the first time I experienced living with someone I was in a relationship with. This was exciting for me. I know what I believe a functioning relationship looks like and the idea of trying to collectively achieve something, spending the first night sleeping on a mattress on the floor and then endless weeks arranging our belongings and turning an empty shell into a home seemed a perfect reflection of two people who were truly functioning, not just individually but collectively.

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This was more difficult than I expected, but I’m pretty sure that no matter how mature the twenty-two year old there’s still a level of naivety! Compromise and sharing aren’t necessarily qualities found in essentially selfish people. I have no qualms in saying that I was relatively selfish, uptight and short-tempered. I like to think that I’m not holding onto these defects so much now. I am however still reasonably particular about what I like and how I like it. If you throw into this scenario the fact that all the furniture I was moving into my first proper home I’d inherited from my Uncle who had suddenly died six months earlier, then you may be able to envisage that tension was higher than it should have been.

Ben’s sudden death catapulted me into an entirely unknown place, and one day I intend to write extensively about this, whether that stay private or if I choose to share it I do not yet know. To say I was emotionally unstable would be putting it very lightly. This event and those that followed made two thousand and sixteen an extremely traumatic year for my family and everyone’s responses were, and continue to be, extremely different. It would appear that mine was to attempt to change major aspects of my life, where I lived, my job, to only then realise that change was big and change was scary and change (due to the massive changes that had just occurred in my family) made me very, very uncomfortable. I was nervous about taking all of Ben’s stuff out of storage and moving it into a new place. I knew that our new living room was essentially going to be his, displaced from London to a tiny little flat in Stockport. I tried to mix things up, use his rug in the bedroom and ours in the main space, add different lamps and put my own books on his shelves. It was difficult as it wasn’t my stuff, well it was, but this didn’t seem right. That’s because it wasn’t right, it shouldn’t have been here, it should have been with him and he shouldn’t be dead, he should be here with us.

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For a long time I found it difficult to actually live in the stuff. God forbid my partner weren’t to use a mat on the coffee table or crumbs were dropped on the sofa. Not only is this my Uncle’s stuff, it is also all of high quality. He was extremely meticulous, arguably a perfectionist, and all his belongings are beautiful and had to remain this way. My partner was very respectful of this and he took care to take care but this didn’t stop me being obsessive, short-tempered and mental about it all. Mix my mental with his mental and after just over a year of living here he became my ex.

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Suddenly this all felt much more like adulthood than moving in in the first place did. It was agreed that he would move out and whilst he found somewhere we both continued to live in the same place. You may think this sounds horrendous but to be honest it was during this time that we were, in my opinion, much more honest, vocal and respectful towards each other and, apart from taking it in turns to sleep in the bed, it wasn’t too bad. The day he actually moved out was pretty difficult. I was suddenly remembering the day my dad moved out when I was a kid (not in a weird way, this is not some kind of Freudian analysis) and I was instantly drawn into a whole new level of heartbreak. (Personal NB to stop suppressing unresolved issues here…) It was then that all of a sudden, this little kind of by accident flat, became my first ever ‘only me’ home.

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For the remainder of the tenancy I’ve lived on my own, just me, Ben’s furniture, and my own thoughts. It’s been great. I would thoroughly recommend this experience to all young women even if it were just for a short time like me. We live in a world where expectations, opinions and the pressure to conform is rife, especially as women. Live on your own. I have answered to no one. I’ve come and gone entirely as I pleased. I pay my own rent, my own bills. I am self sufficient (for the most part, but I have had help from my family, especially during the parts of my life that have been particularly challenging) and it is empowering. I’ve not done anything particularly exciting with this freedom, but I have existed on my own terms.

It was difficult at first this living on my own business. There were days when I felt so insignificant and strange as there was no other person to watch me exist. This sounds weird; I’ll try and explain. If I were to have a particularly good hair day, or make some really nice food then my brain could quite easily switch into ‘what’s the point, no one else knows’ mode and after talking to other people (well, actually women) I learned that this is probably quite natural. It also leads to something I think is really healthy and that is self-validation. I am someone who has consistently looked to external forces to validate my existence and my importance and this isn’t something I’d recommend. It’s too difficult, it’s cruel and self-deprecating and I found that even when I got outside praise I was still never truly happy. Living on my own has made me like myself. Not love, just like. I spend most of my time with me and have attempted to teach myself to sit with me, to stop constantly checking social media or texting someone, to just be happy with how things are, actually are, in real life at that moment.

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I feel like I could continue writing about the experience of living on my own for a long time so I’m going to stop. I don’t want to be preachy, I want to just relay my own experience but when I feel something has benefited me so much I want everyone to give it a go! So, it’s on to my next step. I have plans to move in with a very good friend (being kind to my finances here) but we haven’t found the right place yet so it’s back to my mum’s for a while. I moved out nearly six years ago so this is going to be an adjustment but it is actually an adjustment I’m looking forward to. I’ve been hurt over the last two years and not just a bit. There’s been times when it feels my brain has been completely dismantled and awkwardly put back together and during some of the more stressful times I lost a lot of weight and was physically not my usual self. To go back to live with my mum is an act of self-love. I will continue to look after myself but there’s a big part of me that’s quite relieved that after all the big events that have taken place whilst I’ve lived here I can finally go back to my mum for some extra love.

I’m going to miss my flat, and I’m going to miss living amongst all of Ben’s things for a while but nothing is permanent and before I know it I’ll be whinging about having to get everything out of storage. Moving from here is the last turn of the page in this short chapter of my life and I am emotional but I know there are many more to come and on the whole I am happier, healthier and more myself than I have been in a long time and this is comforting.

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I took a short break from packing yesterday and visited the Book and Record Fair. I was flicking through one bloke’s vinyl collection and suddenly saw a copy of Spanky Wilson’s Doin’ It. It was in Ben’s record collection and I’ve been trying to find my own copy for a long time. The bloke I bought it off (for £4, what a bargain!) looked like an ex-Chorlton-ite, someone who inhabited the place when it was cool and had been pushed out due to its rising prices and gentrification. He looked like the kind of bloke who would have lived in Chorlton around the same time that Ben did and we had a nice chat about soul and different bands, some I’d heard of and some I hadn’t. I came home with a sad-happy feeling. I only went to the fair due to living so close and it’ll probably be the last time I do for a while. I believe there’s something bigger and better than me, and that something seemed to push this vinyl into my hands just at the right moment. Moving for me forces me to process something different each time and it was nice that when I felt like I was losing a lot of what made me feel so close to Ben on a daily basis, this was dropped into my lap. Sometimes the world is a wonderful place.

Oh, and it’s a great album by the way, you should check it out.

Morrissey, So Much to Answer For

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January 2018 Smiths Disco Band

I move in circles that love The Smiths. On my thirteenth birthday I was gifted three CDs: The Kooks (don’t judge me, at that tender age they appeared the most promising tall, skinny, curly-haired musicians around), The Stone Roses and The Smiths – Meat is Murder.

I was instantly enamoured with Meat is Murder. Brought up a vegetarian, I was in tune with the album’s sentiment and I remember feeling as if I had much more of a right to it than my peers as, I too, like Morrissey (and Marr who after the album’s release also became a vegetarian) believed meat to be nothing short of murder.

From that point on I learned what it’s like to truly love a bunch of northern blokes sporting musical instruments (or bunches of gladioli) and to stand by them in a staunchly uncompromising manner. Through my love of The Smiths I nurtured my argumentative tendencies and developed my ability to defend and reason, to the point where relationships ended and English teachers were converted. At the meagre age of fourteen I rather self assuredly declared that you simply couldn’t be a teacher of English Literature and not like The Smiths – his lyrics being poetry within their own right. By the end of the academic year the NQT (now friend) in question proudly exhibited a photograph of Morrissey behind her desk.

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A cutting from the Observer that I’ve had on my wall for years.

The Smiths, as Tony Fletcher notes, have never defended themselves. People like me do it for them, passionately and more often that not, too enthusiastically for the sentiments we’re upholding. At risk of sounding tacky, they are very much like Marmite, both loved and hated in equal measure.

This is not to say that the general public at large shares a mutual love and respect for the Smiths. Due to Morrissey’s untrained and limited vocal range, which he compensated for in early days with the addition of yodelling, yelping, and the occasional grunt; abetted by the politically personal stance of his lyrics, which sought to tease, amuse, comfort, and confront […] aided by such a determined collective refusal to compromise that the Smiths were often misconstrued as awkward or arrogant, confirmed by the manner in which they stood musically and visually at direct odds to the mainstream soundtrack of the mid-1980s […] For all these reasons the Smiths were either loved or hated. There was no room for mild acceptance in between.

As Fletcher acknowledges, to love The Smiths (as it is not enough, or perhaps possible, to simply ‘like’ them) is to belong to a group that is outside of the mainstream. To identify with Morrissey and Marr is to affiliate oneself with the left-wingers, the vegetarians and pacifists of the world, to stand unashamedly outside of the collective.

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From Meat is Murder I progressed onto Hatful of Hollow, The World Won’t Listen and Louder than Bombs. I discovered What Difference Does it Make? and This Charming Man. I remember one other girl at school liking The Smiths and she shared William, It Was Really Nothing and Some Girls are Bigger than Others. I couldn’t get enough. Fully out of the grunge phase that occupied me throughout my twelfth year I now lived for Morrissey and Marr.

It was around this time that the BBC aired The Seven Ages of Rock series and it was the final episode that I would become obsessed with. It was entitled What the World is Waiting For and focussed on the birth of British Indie and the subsequent explosion of Britpop. Less bothered about Oasis and Blur and their now immortalised endeavours for top spot on the album chart, I religiously watched the first half of the episode in which the rise and fall of The Smiths, and their influence on the British music scene as a whole, was painstakingly documented. I watched it every single day for months, having recorded it onto our Virgin box, each time learning something new and congratulating myself on my ability to hold onto this knowledge. Eventually my dad deleted it from our recordings library. I was gutted.

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Re-issue, re-package, re-package/re-evaluate the songs/double-pack with a photograph/extra track, and a tacky badge.

It was here that I witnessed Morrissey’s infamous refusal of a microphone on Top of the Pops. If they were insisting he mimed, he would make it apparent. Morrissey, flailing around with a bunch of gladioli, singing about how he would go out if he had a stitch to wear, alongside a roll neck wearing Johnny Marr, was an image that epitomised coolness and non-conformity.

I remember being pleased that I had fallen so much in love with The Smiths. Now, I can’t imagine my life without them. When my parents announced that they were separating I shut myself in my room and played Bigmouth Strikes Again at full volume. They sound tracked many a journey to uni in Sheffield to the point where I wrote half my undergraduate dissertation on them. When I ended a four-year relationship last year Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce were there to vocalise my feelings and comfort my (extremely Morrissey-esque) aching heart. A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours gets me out of bed most mornings (quite literally – it’s my alarm) and to commemorate receiving my Masters my dad bought me The Queen is Dead reissue. And, although I find its existence ironic (see Paint a Vulgar Picture) it’s still one of the most beautiful of my possessions. I Won’t Share You, the final track on Strangeways, is perhaps one of the most beautiful yet simultaneously heart-breaking songs I’ve ever heard. Morrissey’s voice on this album is at its most tender and Marr’s guitar at its most melancholy. Just for today it is my favourite Smiths album. Its final track is the perfect goodbye, a love song about an irretrievable relationship, with an ‘I don’t want you, but no one else can have you’ attitude. It is undeniably human and in my opinion would make an exceptional and emotional first dance!

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If you were to visit my flat my love for all things Smiths is apparent, from my physical music collection, to the artwork on my walls, to the rather fabulous mug I drink my tea out of, to the books I keep on my shelves. When Penguin announced that Morrissey would be penning his autobiography and that it would be published in the realm of their Classics editions I was nothing short of ecstatic and amused. This, to the general public, was a sure sign of his arrogance and misconceived perception of himself. To me, it was a hilarious assertion of his knowledge of this perceived self-confidence. Only Steven Patrick Morrissey would have the ability to persuade Penguin to publish his autobiography as an instant classic.

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Christmas morning 2013 saw me sleeping on my own floor, waking with an exceptional hangover and unwrapping this book. Not remotely bothered about any of my other presents (this, I had been waiting for) I began to read. Initially I blamed it on my emotional hung-over state; the fact that I couldn’t quite stomach his efforts, but as the day and subsequently weeks and months progressed it turned out I couldn’t handle his narration. I persevered however and a year later finally turned the page for the four hundred and fifty seventh time and completed the ordeal on a sun lounger in the South of France. It is a difficult read. There are no chapters; barely any sentences. It is the stream of consciousness of a damaged man with a persecution complex. This was the beginning of the end.

Johnny Marr’s however, was a complete contrast. Finished within two days, Marr conveys himself eloquently and tenderly. His experiences with different bands and musicians (in particularly those with The Smiths, and in sharp contrast to Morrissey) are treated with respect and resounding admiration. The negative parts of his life are acknowledged, yet not dwelt upon, and this makes for a mature work. Reading the final pages the reader is left with the impression that Johnny is just a top bloke who loves guitars, his peers, Manchester and his family. There is an entire lack of any animosity towards the dissolution of The Smiths and the court case that followed, whereas Morrissey’s portrayal suggests that it has haunted and infuriated him throughout his life.

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As he’s aged, the public perception of Morrissey is that he has become more controversial. My opinion is that he knows what he’s doing and simply does it to gain a reaction. Normally, I laugh it off, acknowledge his ridiculousness and continue with my own life. However, recently he’s gone too far.

Last year, a friend of mine expressed her disgust with a certain Steven Patrick Morrissey as he announced an upcoming album tour that is defunct of any form of Manchester date. I felt a similar sentiment; who does he think he is? This icon of Northern misery refuses to play in the city that provided him with his best work. The man who once declared, ‘London is dead, London is dead’ etc. etc. is actually partaking in three (yes, three!) dates in that self-professed graveyard. His Northern stint begins in Newcastle and ends in Leeds. Surely it is only proper to see Morrissey perform in the North? And furthermore, not just the North but my North.

Northern regions, and more specifically Northern cities, are extremely distinct. Newcastle is as different to Leeds as the Amazon is to the Antarctic. Its industry is centred on coal mining and the impact of Thatcher’s Britain was felt in a wholeheartedly different way that far North. Newcastle is truly on the edge, easily overlooked, far from the capital and the centre of commerce. The attitudes in this version of the North are very different.

Leeds offers a further alternative version of Northerness. The city dealt in wool, which although perhaps not appearing to be, was exceptionally different to Manchester’s cotton. The aesthetic, attitudes and downfall all vary creating distinct versions of Northerners. As a proud Mancunian, a true descendent of Cottonopolis, I refuse to entertain the idea of watching Morrissey in Yorkshire.

Moving to LA as soon as he did demonstrates that Morrissey seems to have some sort of dissolution with Manchester. About as opposite as you could possibly get, I imagine Morrissey’s LA life is akin to Annie Hall. If you were to merge aspects of Woody Allen and Tony Roberts’ characters then you would be left with an accurate suggestion of how Morrissey conducts himself on the West Coast, with the cynicism and dissatisfaction of Allen and the narcissistic, self-conscious, obsessiveness of Roberts. It is easy to imagine him being driven around in a convertible covered with some ridiculous hood to protect against the effects of gamma.

For all his rational and welcome eighties radicalism, Morrissey is also entirely irrational. I do not intend to talk at length about his recent comments on high profile sexual assault allegations as this has been done. Dissatisfaction and disgust have been readily available and however he chooses to contend his words, the facts seem to speak for themselves. It is sad that I cannot now be both a feminist (or just decent human being) and a supporter of Morrissey. For all the defending I have mustered over the years, I feel let down. This is not a case of controversy for controversy’s sake, but rather the nonsensical delusions of an ageing man.

When he released Low in High School I know many Morrissey fans that were unwilling to listen based upon his increasingly challenging personal views. I don’t believe in this as a practice. I don’t listen to Michael Jackson because his music is awful, it just so happens that that also sits morally well with me. The pro-Israel stance through the second half of the album is somewhat unsettling, however musically, there are some really good tracks on there.

The Smiths and particularly Morrissey (as an outspoken, unapologetic, controversial figure) hold a special place in my being. They have inspired, comforted and supported me for eleven years. So, I will continue to go to Smiths Disco and relish in the weirdness that that invites. I will continue to wake up every morning to A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours and feel as if I can (potentially) take on the world. I will continue to play Bigmouth Strikes Again at full volume in moments of crisis and take comfort in Johnny Marr’s cheerful, yet fatalistic guitar. And, above all, I will continue to staunchly defend the values and attitudes of these four outcasts from Greater Manchester, no matter how unpopular that may make me. In fact, in true Smithsonian fashion, that will only encourage me further.

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Protesting the state of the world, the sign being in reference to Trump, in Manchester last year.

This is not England: Shane Meadows and the Problematic North

 

Location is never an accident in Shane Meadows’ work; it is meticulously searched for and manipulated. After This is England (2007) he released Somer’s Town (2008) and demonstrated a preoccupation with space so precise that he filmed in black and white, so that location appeared consistent throughout, as highlighted in this quote from Meadows himself:

I actually started taking photographs of the various locations, because there was a massive range of buildings from a massive range of times we ended up with a huge variation in colour. […] I had some of the photographs converted into black and white and suddenly it started to look like the same place rather than this mish-mash.[1]

As David Forrest suggests ‘this quote reveals within Meadows a profound concern with environment not simply as backdrop, but as an aspect of his visual repertoire that must be consciously manipulated to look or appear a certain way.’[2] This is also true within This is England; a film arguably set nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. Location is eclectic, with Meadows filming in various parts of the UK in order to convey the visual message he desires.

However it is not just the director obsessed with location, but reviewers as well. Critiquing This is England for The Guardian Peter Bradshaw suggests it is set ‘in the run-down Grimsby of 1983.’[3] Similarly, when reviewing This is England ’90 (2015), Paul Mason appears to ground the narrative in Sheffield with reference to ‘Gleadless Valley Estate.’[4] One of the issues with relying on these reviews is that they are not born from a desire to critically engage with either text. They exist in order to evaluate whether the work was enjoyable and depict that message to an audience whose motive is to determine whether they should watch Meadows’ work. Perhaps using specific ideas of place gives an audience a deeper understanding of the kind of text they will observe, even if this proves to be untrue.

It is not only journalists who have attempted to root the narrative within a definite location, but theoretical critics also. Sarah N. Petrovic suggests twice the setting of This is England. According to her work it ‘is set in an unspecified part of England’s Midlands’[5]. Similarly, later she provides a more intricate suggestion of space; ‘The film’s setting seemingly portrays the East Midlands with a coast’[6]. This assumption is linked to the director’s own autobiography. It is easy to understand why critics would assume that this is where the action takes place as there has been so much emphasis on Meadows’ personal history surrounding the initial release of the film, and his interviewers frequently return to this topic. However, there is little evidence within the actual production to suggest any truth to these claims.

When interviewing Meadows, Andrew Collin’s observes ‘it’s autobiographical to a degree [This is England], in that Shaun [(Thomas Turgoose)] is kind of you. […] Certain parts of you are in Shaun’[7], he also expresses, ‘I noticed [how] his name being Shaun Fields is a pun on your name.’[8] Throughout these statements Meadows smiles and nods and agrees with Collins and elaborates on scenes that occur within the film — such as the gang going ‘hunting’ — with an anecdote of how that scenario happened in reality. Meadows does not shy away from the autobiographical aspects of his work, and arguably encourages these readings by consistently discussing how his life at that stage was parallel to Shaun’s, to a degree. He also openly discusses his upbringing in Uttoxeter and the impact this had on himself and his work. These two notions combined, although Meadows never states that the action takes place in these areas, suggest to the viewer that this small town in the East Midlands could perhaps be where the narrative unfolds.

Throughout this essay I will argue that to ground Meadows’ feature film in a specific place is unrealistic. Meanwhile, I will attempt to demonstrate how This is England is a film firmly rooted in the north, looking to the cinematic and critical techniques Meadows employs in his treatment of space and location, as well as the socio-political-cultural history in which the film is set. I will then discuss how Meadows’ treatment of space changes by the final instalment of the subsequent television series. I will argue that within This is England ’90, Meadows’ approach to location has become less unidentifiable through his deployment of landmark buildings such as Park Hill. This, I will submit, makes the viewing of the final This is England instalment problematic. I will debate that throughout the franchise Meadows presents his viewer with a homogenised version of the north and that consequently including buildings that could be considered reasonably iconic creates something of an issue. Location becomes identifiable; viewers that know the space will have their own personal connotations relating to it. The estates Meadows uses in the final series were important architectural ventures during their conception and continue to be lived in today. They mean different things to different communities. To present these areas within this homogenised version of the north, I will argue, is not necessarily fair, ethical or successful.

This is Northern: The British New Wave and Cultural Shorthand

Dave Russell discusses how ‘the concept of the homogenous North […] is a dangerous simplification.’[9] This homogenous north, he argues, has existed since ‘representatives from the entire cultural field were drawn to the industrialising North in the late eighteenth and earlier nineteenth centuries and their observations have provided a convenient set of references and images ever since.’[10] He argues that ‘the North that has emerged on screen has been extremely restricted geographically’[11] and that ‘central to this reductive process has been the tendency to locate films not in definite, knowable places but in carefully chosen, often stereotypical terrain providing an easily recognisable and swiftly assimilated version of the region.’[12] As I submitted during the introduction, Meadows demonstrates an attitude towards space that sees him manipulating areas and regions in order to make them appear as a tangible whole. Filming This is England in disparate locations, but presenting them as a small neighbourhood within the film, Meadows arguably conforms to Russell’s theory that presents a homogenised view of the north as a location. Through a series of close readings I will examine how Meadows presents his viewer with a landscape that is significantly northern, and explore how he cinematically aligns himself with the New Wave directors of the 1960s which has a significant role in locating the film in a northern setting.

The New Wave was an important, catalytic cinematic moment in British history. Directors rejected the use of studios, shooting their films instead on location, often in the northern, industrial towns that would form the crux of Meadows’ work. There are two important factors relating to place consistently employed within the New Wave films. One is the ‘view-of-our-town-from-that-hill’ and the other poetic realism. According to John Hill, ‘Poetic realism at once represents and transcends the ordinary, the mundane, the uninteresting. And it also produces the working-class character as the […] victim of the city.’[13] Essentially, poetic realism is the practice of using ordinary, real-life locations and romanticising them within the film to make them appear and feel more emotive or to assign them with a greater meaning.

Place within This is England is, in this sense, used poetically. It acts as a character in its own right, arguably becoming the film’s central character, privileged above everything else. Space here exists before the characters, with actors only ever entering the frame after the audience has been exposed to a shot of a particular landscape. In his work, Forrest suggests why Meadows could be considered to be Britain’s latest art-house export by way of his alignment with New Wave tendencies. Most significantly for this work, this similarity is found within Meadows’ technique of ‘removing space from narrative, to invite audience engagement with environment on aesthetic and thus potentially poetic grounds.’[14] He suggests that location within Meadows’ work does not simply exist as somewhere for the narrative to take place but rather as important narrative function within itself, much like the films of the New Wave forty years previous.

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This is England, Shane Meadows, Optimum Releasing (2007)

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A Taste of Honey, Tony Richardson, British Lion Films (1961)

The two images above are strikingly similar. The first is a still from Meadows’ This is England where the viewer observes Shaun alone and isolated in a dark space, with the city lit up behind him. The following image is from Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey (1961) and also foregrounds a dark space with an isolated main character set against the city in the background. Although not the shot’s primary concern, the city is strikingly obvious to the viewer due to the fact that is the main source of light. This combined with its photographic-like framing demonstrate its constant presence and significance to the viewer. Both Meadows and Richardson frame the city with architecture in these shots. The viewer knows that A Taste of Honey is set and filmed in Salford, and that that city is what they are witnessing. The heavy build up of terraced houses, and the looming image of the factory chimney, are images associated with the north throughout these films. Although This is England does not include a host of terraced houses, the five tower blocks in the background of the shot convey a similar message. The terraces may not exist anymore but people living on top of each other in crowded conditions is still portrayed. Over the water is a set of units and the disused building that Shaun is playing in appears to be a relic of industrialisation. This is not a seafront designed for pleasure but rather industry, albeit industry in decline.

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This is England, Shane Meadows, Optimum Releasing (2007)

These images are lifted from a sequence wherein the viewer witnesses Shaun travelling around his hometown alone. Before leaving the city for these more open spaces the viewer observes him on his bike, washing cars and buying sweets. Place is a privileged component within this sequence, but it is only when Shaun leaves the confines of the built environment that its poetic qualities really become apparent, as with the New Wave. A key feature within the films of the New Wave is characters leaving town for a day or an afternoon to travel to the country as ‘it is in the countryside or by the seaside that the characters can most be themselves’[15]. Similarly here the viewer sees Shaun leave the town for the open space of the beach and in this sequence space is used ‘as a signifier of self’[16].

Shaun is isolated. He is lonely and friendless, and the audience is aware that he is being bullied at school and lacks a father figure. The use of a grounded and wrecked boat indicates a character not moving forward but rather one trapped in their situation.

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This is England, Shane Meadows, Optimum Releasing (2007)

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This is England, Shane Meadows, Optimum Releasing (2007)

The images from the beach are exceptionally similar to Richardson’s deployment of this same location in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962).

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The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Tony Richardson, British Lion Films (1962)

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The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Tony Richardson, British Lion Films (1962)

The vast expanses of ocean indicate the prospect of escape is always there but not achievable, the viewer has already deciphered this through Shaun’s grounding in the boat. Escape is a common theme in the New Wave films, with characters leaving the city but inevitably returning. In both films the figures are small, diminished by the location they inhabit. The space works to poetically suggest this concept of freedom that is ultimately unachievable. The diminishing value of the space demonstrates how the characters ultimately have no control, suggesting that their attempts to leave the industrial city are futile, as they will always ultimately return.

As demonstrated, there are moments from the New Wave that Meadows essentially replicates within This is England. His alignment with the movement, as Forrest suggests, is clear, and space does exist ‘as positive affirmations of authorship within a wider sphere of art cinema’[17]. However through demonstrating this alignment it is also reasonable to suggest that Meadows therefore presents his viewer with a stylistically northern film, albeit a ‘literally invented one, a collection of suitable images.’[18]

Maggie is a Twat: Socio-Political Concerns and the State-of-the-Nation Film

Meadows’ 1980s setting is also an indicator of region. ‘In the period 1979-82 unemployment more than doubled and unemployment stayed at over 3 million from 1982 until 1986.’[19] ‘The decline of manufacturing and the rising importance of the service sector accentuated divisions between north and south, insofar as it was the north where manufacturing jobs were most often lost’[20]. Meadows’ film and subsequent franchise portrays a jobless working-class youth in a neglected industrial heartland demonstrative of a northern setting.

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This is England, Shane Meadows, Optimum Releasing (2007)

The use of archive footage indicates the time period. Within seven seconds of the film beginning the viewer witnesses then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Meadows’ footage is a mixture of celebratory moments – the advancement of the computer, Charles and Diana’s wedding – and negative aspects of the period; the miner’s strikes, nationalist marches and the Falklands War. The images of war are the most harrowing and Meadows cuts between these and footage of Thatcher encouraging his viewer to place these ideas together. Consequently, Thatcher’s negative connotations are established early in the film.

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This is England, Shane Meadows, Optimum Releasing (2007)

The image above shows a machine making CDs, a new piece of technology, demonstrating advancement. This shot also highlights the lack of work; in the factory people have been replaced with machines. Meadows uses this footage alongside scenes of riots, reminding the viewer of the industrial decline and subsequent strikes that the Conservative government caused during the period. Although a signifier of technological advancement, in this context it demonstrates something detrimental. The manufacturing of a CD – the new technology – links to Denis and Ian Derbyshire’s argument:

The decline of the ‘smokestack’ and second wave industries in the traditional industrial regions […] and the growth of the new high-tech and service sector industries in southern and eastern England […] widened regional economic differentials[21]

There is no place for ‘high-tech’ industries within Meadows’ film and his characters, minus Lol (Vicky McClure), do not work. There does not appear to be a service sector to participate in and Meadows’ presentation of a non-working working-class suggests a northern location over one in the south.

Meadows’ working-class community are isolated and frustrated with their lack of influence, Combo’s (Stephen Graham) antagonistic speech being a good example of this. In the 1979 and 1983 elections ‘only 16 per cent [of Conservative MPs were] from the north of England, the smallest proportion in over a hundred years’[22] and the film’s anti-Thatcher sentiment is clear. Although not explicitly mentioned through dialogue, it is clear through the environment the characters inhabit.

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This is England, Shane Meadows, Optimum Releasing (2007)

 ‘The physical space of This is England is covered with graffiti, a sign of people trying to project themselves onto the landscape and to define themselves by marking their ideology.’[23] The graffiti in the shot above is shown twice, both with Shaun. Once alone in flares with all his hair, and later with Combo’s gang in with fake Doctor Martens and shaved head. The contrast between the two images of Shaun, isolation versus acceptance in a group demonstrates how Thatcher’s policies affected a wide range of people. Shaun is affected through Thatcher’s foreign policy and loss of his father, whilst Combo is affected through his hatred of immigration. Shaun is accepted into his group as the government too has failed him. As Snelson and Sutton suggest ‘subcultural youth collectivity is a strategy for filling the voids that Conservative policies had created while countering the Thatcherite ideology of individualism.’[24]

The cinema of the period was ‘divided between two main types: on the one hand a traditional […] cinema preoccupied with the past versus a more unorthodox, and socially aware, cinema concerned with the present.’[25] Hill discusses that ‘the latter cinema’[26], and the cinema that I will argue Meadows also aligns himself with, ‘is also a cinema which is itself predominantly critical of Thatcherism and indignant about the social tensions and hardships that resulted from the spread of Thatcherite policies and culture.’[27] Hill suggests that ‘what became known as ‘the state-of-the-nation’ film during the 1980s may be linked to a longstanding tradition of socially critical cinema in Britain.’[28] Meadows adheres to this through the ‘inclusion of hitherto ‘invisible’ social groups.’[29] Throughout the 1980s class was less simply defined and the lines that separated society became more complex with a new focus on issues such as gender, ethnicity and sexuality and, ‘it is this sense of pluralism which characterizes many of the ‘state-of-the-nation’ films’[30]. Meadows’ film does exactly this. In an increasingly classless society Meadows focuses on different aspects within the characters that would define and divide them with race the most prominent issue.

Meadows’ film subtly conveys the effects of Thatcherism on a group of characters without explicitly mentioning it. Through his use of archive footage, radio broadcasts of the period and stylistic methods Meadows critiques Thatcher and includes her as an ever-present character within the film although she is only mentioned once. The negative effect Thatcher’s policies had on communities were more readily felt in the north, as previously demonstrated through the figures. Additionally, further alignment with another cinematic tradition allows the viewer to locate Meadows’ film within a northern setting alongside the socio-cultural landscape it is a part of.

This is Sheffield: Park Hill and This is England ‘90

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This is England ’90, Shane Meadows, Channel Four (2015)

 This is Park Hill, Sheffield. ‘Built between 1957 and 1960 on hilltops overlooking the city of Sheffield [… Park Hill …] re-house[d] over 2,000 people from slum clearance areas.’[31] This was the golden age of post-war architecture, a brutalist utopia ‘perhaps most famous for its elevated gangways, dubbed ‘streets in the sky’, which, to many people’s fascination allowed the milk float to access every home.’[32]

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This is England ’90, Shane Meadows, Channel Four (2015)

Meadows’ establishing shots continue to indicate that this is not a specific location, there are no long shots with the city in view, and to identify the location through what it overlooks is not possible. The city, in the background, is a haze. Meadows uses the building in a similar way that he has employed location throughout the entire franchise. Several establishing shots are provided, and so the viewer is again forced to observe the space used simply as that: place. Again, it is not just a space for action to unfold in, but somewhere that conveys meaning and exists within its own right. To look at the façade of Park Hill does not necessarily mean it is Park Hill. The section Meadows chooses to film does not include any colour, as Owen Hatherley notes, what Urban Splash did when they took over the renovation of this Grade II listed building was remove ‘all the bricks, to be replaced with anodized aluminium panels, replicating the colour scheme while entirely abandoning true materials.’[33] Park Hill’s colour, originally produced in bricks in order to create a steady gradient of tone that moved across the building, was an extremely distinctive quality, one that stood out to its witness from afar. For Meadows to not include something so distinctive indicates his desire for this space to remain nowhere, although arguably he has not succeeded.

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This is England ’90, Shane Meadows, Channel Four (2015)

As Meadows films this shot from such a low angle the viewer is subsequently forced to focus on the floor, showing how ‘claustrophobic walk-ups or corridors were rejected in favour of 12ft wide ‘streets in the sky’.’[34] This is arguably Park Hill’s defining feature, to ‘replicate the tightly packed street life of the area in the air’[35]. As mentioned, Park Hill’s walkways provided much fascination; alongside the fact you could walk from one end of the complex to the other without ever having to traverse the ground level. There were few other buildings designed in this way, either in Sheffield or the wider scope of Great Britain. Filming at ground level focuses the viewer’s attention on the width of the shot. The centrality of Harvey (Michael Socha) draws attention to the width of the corridor as Meadows adds a sense of scale with through including a character. Similarly figure fourteen demonstrates the scale through the curve of the building, indicating that these walkways do in fact lead elsewhere and that we are not observing a straightforward tower block construction.

 

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This is England ’90, Shane Meadows, Channel Four (2015)

It is strange that Meadows, usually so meticulous with location, would choose in his final series to use such an architecturally distinctive space. Hatherley suggests that ‘Enjoyable as these tensions [between English Heritage and Urban Splash] are, they obscure a deeply complex story, one which perfectly exemplifies Britain’s tortured relationship with its recent past.’[36] Perhaps Meadows is aware that viewers will now be able to identify a place in which he films, but favours the connotations of that place over maintaining anonymity. Meadows’ use of a building in decline, and with much dispute over its future, he continues to suggest ideas regarding the state of the nation, and consequently, as an audience, we return to the concepts that This is England evokes. ‘Unsurprisingly, such an innovative and large-scale project attracted much national interest’[37] during its construction and throughout subsequent years. Using a building that evokes ideas of a time when planners wished to make ordinary people’s lives better, and became significant nationally, brings the franchise full circle. Throughout This is England ‘86 and ’88 the viewer is drawn into an ever deeper personal story through Lol. This is England ’90, as Meadows’ ‘full stop […] in pencil’[38] has brought the viewer back to the nation’s prevailing issues, where it currently stands, where it’s been, and perhaps where it’s going.

However, ‘Banham, pondered […] whether the idiom was an ‘Ethic or Aesthetic’, so firmly marked was it by social concerns.’[39] There have always been ethical issues and responsibilities surrounding Park Hill and consequently they surround its use within Meadows’ work. It has been a significant part of a host of communities’ lives. When inhabitants were moved to facilitate its renovation ‘three hundred […] of the two thirds of residents […] have specifically registered an interest in returning, indicating that the building is still held in high esteem by those it was designed for.’[40] For Meadows to locate this building in his version of the north is not necessarily fair. Increasingly ‘region and place have come to be even more intrinsic to people’s sense of self’[41] due to factors such as globalisation. For a filmmaker to take an iconic part of a region and locate it within an area that is not true to reality is disorientating and diminishing. As Russell notes, ‘while the pleasurable recognition of familiar sights doubtless added much to the enjoyment of films shot locally there is little evidence of communities experiencing a genuine ownership of them. The North on screen has generally been constructed too far south for that.’[42]

It is problematic to use this location as an attempt to depict realistic, working-class characters when it has such overpoweringly recognisable qualities. When the history of the building is dissected, it becomes apparent that it is no longer a space for that community. Some of the inhabitants moved to accommodate regeneration would have been part of the original working-class who were moved there out of slums. For Meadows to use the estate to depict his own version of a struggling working-class is arguably unethical as it is being filmed on a site where a working-class in turmoil did live. Park Hill is frequently associated with decay and Hatherley believes this to have begun in the nineties, as Russell notes, ‘the modernizations of the 1960s were stigmatised as planning disasters, imprisoning the local population in no-go estates and tower blocks’. In this context, Meadows appears to be utilising the space as cultural shorthand for poverty. When the estate’s caretaker is interviewed he has this to say, ‘I love the old girl. She’s an old lady who’s fallen on hard times.’[43] As Hatherley suggests, ‘Park Hill has inspired the sense of belonging its architects tried to create’[44] and so for Meadows to attempt to suggest that this building belongs to nowhere specific is insulting to its residents, architects and those who know it best.

Ultimately through his alignment with the New Wave, the state-of-the-nation film and the period he chooses to definitively set his work in Meadows succeeds in presenting his viewer with a version of the north that is comfortingly familiar. It is within This is England ’90 that this sense of place is disrupted and the viewer becomes disorientated with use of such a significant building. This essay has attempted to understand Meadows’ reasons for making such a decision and has suggested why this may have been made. However, it has also noted how making such a decision was unsuccessful in conjunction with the rest of his franchise. A film and series that was initially applicable to a nation became more specific in This is England ’90 through Meadows’ use of a famous Sheffield landmark and the viewer, if not familiar with the area, is left to question whether the issues and themes are still applicable to them.


[1] Shane Meadows, Quoted in: David Forrest, ‘Shane Meadows and the British New Wave: Britain’s Hidden Art Cinema’, Studies in European Cinema, 6:2-3 (2009), 191-201, (p. 200).

[2] Shane Meadows, Quoted in: David Forrest, ‘Shane Meadows and the British New Wave: Britain’s Hidden Art Cinema’, Studies in European Cinema, 6:2-3 (2009), 191-201, (p. 200).

[3] Peter Bradshaw, ‘This is England’, The Guardian (2007), <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2007/apr/27/drama2>, (para. 3).

[4] Paul Mason, ‘This is England ’90: when the working class still had hope’, The Guardian (2015), < https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/14/this-is-england-90-when-working-class-still-had-hope?CMP=share_btn_tw>, (para. 12).

[5] Sarah N. Petrovic, ‘Changing Spaces of Englishness: Psychogeography in This is England and Somers Town’, Shane Meadows Critical Essays, (Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2013), 127-141, p. 129.

[6] Sarah N. Petrovic, ‘Changing Spaces of Englishness: Psychogeography in This is England and Somers Town’, Shane Meadows Critical Essays, (Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2013), p. 130.

[7] Andrew Collins, Quoted in: Edinburgh International Television Festival, ‘This is England ’90 – Shane Meadows Q&A’, YouTube (2015), <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHvYs7yAcA&gt;

[8] Andrew Collins, Quoted in: Edinburgh International Television Festival, ‘This is England ’90 – Shane Meadows Q&A’, YouTube (2015), <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHvYs7yAcA&gt;

[9] Dave Russell, ‘Looking North Northern England and the National Imagination’, (Manchester University Press, 2004), p. 18.

[10] Dave Russell, ‘Looking North Northern England and the National Imagination’, (Manchester University Press, 2004), p. 24.

[11] Dave Russell, ‘Looking North Northern England and the National Imagination’, (Manchester University Press, 2004), p. 178.

[12] Dave Russell, ‘Looking North Northern England and the National Imagination’, (Manchester University Press, 2004), p. 179.

[13] John Hill, Quoted in: David Forrest, ‘Shane Meadows and the British New Wave: Britain’s Hidden Art Cinema’, Studies in European Cinema, 6:2-3 (2009), 191-201, (p. 198).

[14] David Forrest, ‘Shane Meadows and the British New Wave: Britain’s Hidden Art Cinema’, Studies in European Cinema, 6:2-3 (2009), 191-201, (p. 199).

[15] John Hill, ‘Sex, Class and Realism’, (British Film Institute Publishing, 1986), p. 158.

[16] David Forrest, ‘Shane Meadows and the British New Wave: Britain’s Hidden Art Cinema’, Studies in European Cinema, 6:2-3 (2009), 191-201, (p. 198).

[17] David Forrest, ‘Shane Meadows and the British New Wave: Britain’s Hidden Art Cinema’, Studies in European Cinema, 6:2-3 (2009), 191-201, (p. 194).

[18] Dave Russell, ‘Looking North Northern England and the National Imagination’, (Manchester University Press, 2004), p. 179.

[19] John Hill, ‘British Cinema in the 1980s’, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 6.

[20] John Hill, ‘British Cinema in the 1980s’, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 7.

[21] Denis Derbyshire, Ian Derbyshire, Quoted in: John Hill, ‘British Cinema in the 1980s’, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 7.

[22] David McCrone, Quoted in: John Hill, ‘British Cinema in the 1980s’, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 14.

[23] Sarah N. Petrovic, ‘Changing Spaces of Englishness: Psychogeography in This is England and Somers Town’, Shane Meadows Critical Essays, (Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2013), 127-141, p. 130.

[24] Tim Snelson, Emma Sutton, Quoted in: Robert Murphy, ‘After Laughter Comes Tears: Passion and Redemption in This is England ‘88’, Shane Meadows Critical Essays, (Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2013), 203-209, p. 80.

[25] Stone, Quoted in: John Hill, ‘British Cinema in the 1980s’, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 133.

[26] John Hill, ‘British Cinema in the 1980s’, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 133.

[27] John Hill, ‘British Cinema in the 1980s’, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 133.

[28] John Hill, ‘British Cinema in the 1980s’, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 134.

[29] John Hill, ‘British Cinema in the 1980s’, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 135.

[30] John Hill, ‘British Cinema in the 1980s’, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 135.

[31] Matthew Hollow, ‘Governmentality on the Park Hill estate: the rationality of public housing’, Urban History, Vol. 37, Issue 1, (2010), 117-135, p. 117.

[32] Matthew Hollow, ‘Governmentality on the Park Hill estate: the rationality of public housing’, Urban History, Vol. 37, Issue 1, (2010), 117-135, p. 117.

[33] Owen Hatherley, ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’, (Verso, 2011), p. 99.

[34] Owen Hatherley, ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’, (Verso, 2011), p. 90.

[35] Owen Hatherley, ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’, (Verso, 2011), p. 90.

[36] Owen Hatherley, ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’, (Verso, 2011), p. 89.

[37] Matthew Hollow, ‘Governmentality on the Park Hill estate: the rationality of public housing’, Urban History, Vol. 37, Issue 1, (2010), 117-135, p. 118.

[38] Shane Meadows, ‘Interview with Shane Meadows’, Channel Four, < http://www.channel4.com/programmes/this-is-england-90/articles/all/interview-with-shane-meadows/3672>, (para. 9).

[39] Owen Hatherley, ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’, (Verso, 2011), p. 89.

[40] Owen Hatherley, ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’, (Verso, 2011), p. 99.

[41] Ieuan Franklin, ‘Introduction’, Regional Aesthetics Mapping UK Media Cultures, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 1-13, p. 2.

[42] Dave Russell, ‘Looking North Northern England and the National Imagination’, (Manchester University Press, 2004), p. 188.

[43] Owen Hatherley, ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’, (Verso, 2011), pp. 99-100.

[44] Owen Hatherley, ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’, (Verso, 2011), p. 100.