July 30, 2007 [This Is England]

This Is England reminds us that working on Maggie's Farm is a back-breaker. Was then, still is, whether she sends you to the field down by the Falklands or outside of Brixton, or whether years later she gets one of her hands to truck you over to the hard-packed ground near Baghdad to dig up yellowcake like potatoes all day for years and get nothing but dust and the surging smell of chlorine.

But Tony Bee and George Dubya and Operation Sinbad are years away from Shaun, the boy in early-1980s England without a father but eager to find someone aside from his well-meaning mother—and he joins a band of Little Punk Rascals who shave his head and encourage the Doc Martin in him, all in good fun, kids on a spree—until the New Skinheads arrive, filled with fear and sick of it, so they try to foist it off on everyone else, a vision of the world as a ghetto of Wogs and Pakis and niggers that they just can't wait to corner and beat to death, their own lost hearts broken, their madness the kind that rats piled up in a little cage understand and turn into blind cannibalism, the taste of each other sickening, their hearts, once filled with ska-dee-lites, now sagging with the effort of pumping anemic pale nothing through flattened veins.

Young Shaun falls into this despair and almost eats his own heart in the lonely frenzy of the moment. He goes to the water like Antoine Doinel, the two of them cut and battered 400 times—but Shaun leaves something to sink under the waves: the Union Jack like a coffin-shroud shrugged off in disgust right before the body slips into the water, leaving Shaun alone but free, "on the beach" like the old movie about nuclear annihilation—except he isn't burning, he can still walk away, and thank God he does.


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