This is England ’90 isn’t typical Sunday night viewing. If you like to sit down with a nice hot cup of tea, put your feet up and enjoy some easy-going entertainment before a week of lectures begins, it may not be for you. It’s a grim, bleak affair that goes for the gut. It’s also one of the best shows you’ll see all year.
The fourth, and supposedly final, chapter of Shane Meadows’ saga, This is England ‘90 picks up two years on from the last time we saw in the gang in ’88, and things seem to be going well. Woody, Lol, Milky and their children are living together in harmony. Shaun is getting on well with his mum and at school. He and the rest of their gang are enjoying Madchester raves, psychedelics, and The Stone Roses.
Of course, This is England, so it doesn’t take long for things to go downhill. While the first episode is surprisingly light-hearted and filled with a decidedly Northern sense of humour, the second episode sees a chilled-out hippie gathering go terribly wrong for one character, and the third contains a family dinner that you’ll find hard to sit through. Tragedy has always been the backbone of this series, and it’s on full display this time around.
The acting and improvisation from the key cast shines, particularly that of Chanel Creswell as Kelly. She brilliantly captures the mindset of a young woman drawn towards the allure of alcohol, hard drugs and worse. Stephen Graham also captivates as the returning Combo, fresh out of prison and looking to make amends. Graham’s performance brims with guilt and shame, and at any point you feel that his character might explode.
Aside from the acting, the cinematography of this season is also phenomenal. Whether it a wide shot of lush countryside or a single, grey block of flats, Meadows once again captures an England that perfectly reflects the characters’ inner turmoil. He also uses simple techniques, like a lingering shot of an empty room, to create an emotional effect that wouldn’t be possible through dialogue alone.
While the series overall is fantastic, the ending is somewhat disappointing. The fourth episode involves a cliché that is unusual for this series, and the conclusion of one character’s arc feels easy, obvious and rushed. On the other hand, the resolutions for the other core characters feel earned, which softens the blow slightly if this really is the end.
The saga comes full circle with the final episode focusing once again on the tensions caused by the skinhead movement and racism of the 80s. Elements of the original film carry over, showing once again that the consequences of racial hatred linger and affect everyone they touch. This culminates with the last, heartbreaking shot of the series.
At the end of it all, we feel like we’ve been on a journey with these characters. We’ve watched them grow up. There may be mixed feelings about the conclusion, but with this series Meadows has once again created an emotional and thought-provoking lens with which to look at 90s England.