This Is England: beloved UK drama is the tonic Australia needs right now

Katie Cunningham

First there was This Is England, the movie. Set in 1983 in the UK, it followed a group of young skinheads who become divided by the far-right politics creeping into their subculture. At the centre of it all was 12-year-old Shaun, a semi-autobiographical character based on the director Shane Meadows’ youth.

This Is England didn’t do much at the box office but it was enough of a critical success that Meadows was able to revive the cast of characters for a TV spin-off. He made three miniseries to follow the film – This Is England ’86, This Is England ’88 and This Is England ’90 – which charted where that friendship group went next in their lives.

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Over the years, we see them fall in and out of love, go from skins to Stone Roses-worshipping ravers, endure jobs they hate, burn down their lives and then build them up again. Shaun, the star of the movie, steps back somewhat to become part of a wider ensemble. The series is excellent and while it’s beloved in the UK, it doesn’t seem to have found a huge audience here in Australia. Luckily, though, it and the film are now streaming on Stan (bar This Is England ’90, which is mysteriously absent from the catalogue).

You’ll need to start your This Is England journey with the film, but don’t take its mood as an indication of what’s to come in the series. While the movie is sombre and a little bit arthouse, the series is funny and endearing. Which is kind of strange, given the topics it tackles: suicide, rape, abuse, addiction and violence all make up major plotlines. Some scenes are truly harrowing.

And yet, nothing I’ve seen on TV has ever moved or delighted me quite like This Is England. There is so much heart and so much to cheer for here – especially the characters, who are complex and flawed and often giant fuck-ups, but also entirely lovable. You truly root for them, especially Woody and Lol, the couple at the centre of the group.

Identity, belonging and redemption are the themes the show returns to over and over. But it’s about class, too, and how this largely working-class group of young people forge lives to a backdrop of Thatcher and parents who variously hurt them, let them down or loom as reminders of what they don’t want to become. The world around these characters and the cards they are dealt often seem unjust. But the gang keeps going despite it all – often, it’s the strength of their friendships that pull them through.

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True to life, there aren’t neat and tidy resolutions for every character. But rewatching This Is England this year, I ended the last episode filled mostly with hope. There’s a strange comfort to watching these characters go through the worst things a person can experience and emerge on the other side. Seeing them find happiness between the bullshit is life-affirming, not depressing. It feels like a testament to human resilience, our ability to adapt and the ways we manage to survive even the cruellest of blows. Things fall apart, everything changes, but the world goes on. Maybe, in these times, we can take it as a reminder: this, too, shall pass.

This Is England is now streaming in Australia on Stan