The latest—and rumoured to be final—instalment of Shane Meadows’s hard-hitting mini-series adaptation of the 2006 film moves into a new decade. One that saw the end of Margaret Thatcher’s hegemonic grip over the United Kingdom. A buoyant wave of optimism struck the nation, and this is the context in which the This is England ’90 opens: Through a now-standard stock-footage opening montage that is backed by a soundtrack—the timelessly anthemic ‘There She Goes’ by The La’s. England is certainly dreaming, yet this is no fairytale story.
It is clear that whilst some things have changed over the two years separating this series with its predecessor, the northern backdrop remains as tough an environment as ever. Central figure of the film, Shaun is struggling to come to terms with a break up, whilst his ex is seemingly at ease with her new life. Woody and Lol, the power couple of the series, are trying to build a stable suburban backdrop within which to raise their children, but for family interference and a certain ghost from the past. Though, in this series the biggest hardship is felt by Lol’s sister, Kelly, who falls into a bottomless spiral of hard substance abuse. This certainly makes for uncomfortable viewing. Her steep descent is exposed at a party in the woods, which ultimately turns sinister and provides possibly the most uneasy-but-transfixing moment of ’90, in a series which is more than full of them.
The drama is brutal and could be crushing viewing if it weren’t for the brilliant comedic moments interspersed throughout the series. The returning Flip (of “fuck off with your ginger chips, Shaun” fame) from the ’86 series provides priceless moments. Clad in the garb of a Def Leppard tribute act and as brash as ever, one scene sees Flip buy a whole £1’s worth of weed, to which he compares himself to “Antonio Montana”. Most of the gang are as on form as ever, especially in the case of Woody, who has inevitably fallen slightly behind with the new sounds of the rave culture, but is still able to give a hilarious effort at an onomatopoeic rendition of the immortal main riff of The Stone Roses’ ‘Fool’s Gold’.
But, one of this mini-series’ biggest charms is that, after all of the previous content, you feel as though you are watching a group of your mates going about their lives. You give a shit if they are having a bad night, whilst you laugh along with all of their jokes. Should this be the last series, Meadow’s has definitely ended strongly, with arguably the best series yet, and although it could be seen that the arcs of some characters have been neatly rounded off, further episodes would be more than welcome from a show unparalleled in current British TV.