Past as Prologue

This Is England
This Is England

Cat-sitting for Anna’s parents last night, we settled down for a calm and gentle night in by popping Shane Meadows’s This Is England into the DVD Player. Dan last saw the film a few years ago when it was first released in cinemas, and remembered it for its pungent portrayal of neo nazi ‘politics’ and its simultaneous affectionate depiction of the skinhead youth culture. In short, he remembered it primarily as a hugely successful period piece – all fried egg sweets and Ben Shermans, resentful council estates and spiralling unemployment. As the furious fascist Combo, a superb Stephen Graham was terrifying and pathetic in equal measure, reaching into the darker recesses of the English working class.

For Anna, though, it was impossible to enjoy this first viewing of the film as anything but an experience full of contemporary relevance. Separated by just a few years from its release date, This Is England now seems a little closer to home: the festering distrust of ‘foreigners’ coming to ‘steal our jobs’ cannot but now remind you of the images in the newspapers just a few short weeks ago, of wildcat strikers in the north of England looking wild and angry. The BNP’s involvement in those disputes only emphasizes the parallels. And has anyone noticed how many Ben Sherman shops are springing up? In the same way that Top Shop seems disturbingly stocked with the fashions sported by the women in the film, we doubt mere coincidence.

Anna continued with the 80’s theme today, by deciding to have a bit of a potter around Wolverhampton Art Gallery, where the theme of violence carried on. The Gallery is currently showing ‘The Northern Ireland Collection: Fresh Perspectives’ (November 08-09) to mark ten years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The collection of works is brilliant, and portrays the often very personal reactions of artists to the situation in their country during the thirty years of violence and blood shed on both sides. One work was made from the cell doors of a women’s prison; through the shutters you can glimpse glass tears suspended against a bright red background. Other works included photos of life in Northern Ireland, in which painted colours (orange, or red, blue and white) on banners, flags and walls, separated communities.

The Gallery is a bit of a hidden gem in the Midlands, and often shows some really thought provoking exhibitions. We would recommend it! Currently, the Gallery is also showing a Pop Art exhibition, documenting the theme of 50s and 60s consumer culture. The pieces chart artists’ worship of post-war consumerist America, through to their later skepticism.

Skepticism can lead to disillusionment. With the economy dipping the world over, it’s difficult not to find parallels in the past, even – perhaps especially – in those moments we might hope are passed.


3 thoughts on “Past as Prologue

  1. We were reading the Times this weekend, and couldn’t help but notice the interest in the 80s there, too!

  2. Well this cheered me up no end! Totally agree though.

    Incidentally, I caught ‘This is England’ last time it was on TV and found it equally fascinating and distressing. I was glad I watched it, but I’m not sure I could again.

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