This Is England 90
Exposed chats to the cast of This Is England 90 and gains a sneak preview of the first episode, which airs on Channel 4 on September 13th 2015.
After a decade of close-knit camaraderie, hapless humour and gut wrenching drama, Shane Meadows’ award-winning vision comes to a close this month on Channel 4. This Is England ‘90 wraps up the stories of Woody, Lol, Shaun, Milky, Kelly, Gadget and the rest of the gang in a series which swaps braces and Docs for acid house, baggy jeans and, it would seem, happier times. Exposed were invited along to the press night to have a chat with the cast and to gain a sneak peek of the first episode.
We’ve made our way to the Big Smoke and find ourselves in the heart of Soho, in a venue that is part record shop, part pop-up cinema and part warehouse – with walls plastered with mock rave flyers, stacks of old TV sets and a sound system that is raring to go for the after party later that evening. But before it all kicks off we grab a few minutes with the cast members for a natter about the series.
So the series returns to find Lol and Woody in a much happier place?
VM: Yes, they’re happy together again. Lol has two children to deal with now – one from Woody and one from Milky.
AS: It’s just one big happy family.
JG: A dysfunctional family, but it’s still quite a beautiful thing. My parents split up when I was a kid and it was quite dysfunctional for a while, so I think there will be a few people out there who can relate to this big fucking mess we’ve ended up with. It works quite well though and it’s time that Woody, Lol and Milky were all happy.
Did you ever imagine back in 2005 that you’d still be doing interviews on This Is England ten years later?
AS: I don’t think any of us thought that we’d ever do a follow-up to the film.
JG: I didn’t even believe Shane that it was going to be a proper film. When he told me that there was going to be a premiere with a red carpet, I was like, ‘Yeah, of course there is…’ And here we are, ten years down the line, speaking to all you media types.
Is this series a bit of a lighter, happier one?
AS: I think anything that Shane will ever do will have a mix of amazing humour and darker times.
VM: There is a lot of humour in this series; I’ve had such a laugh filming it.
JG: I’ve enjoyed filming this one more than any of the others – it’s been wonderful. I’m 31 now, and I started with this when I was 21, so I’ve been able to appreciate what a success it’s been.
What was it like going back to 1990?
JG: Wicked, man. I’ve grown a big beard and look like a cross between a heroin addict and one of the disciples. I remember bits of the ‘90s – my mum having hair like Brian May and my dad wearing New Balance trainers (a shit dad shoes back then) – it was buzzing to go back.
VM: Obviously, we were only young – so we just go with Shane’s interpretation.
JG: I remember my dad getting really upset at the news, being frustrated with politics and the way the world was going. Nowadays, and I’m part of this generation, people just sit behind their TVs talking about how unfair things are, rather than taking to the streets.
VM: Shane puts together some amazing montages of the big events during the ‘90s – it manages to encapsulate things really well.
Is there much reference to the Italia ‘90 World Cup?
JG: Not really because I think, for Shane, it was more about the music and drugs.
During the last series there were a lot of intense scenes, which must have been difficult to play. Are there more in this series?
JG: Oooh yeah, the fight scene between Woody and Milky was bloody difficult. We felt like twats for the whole day. But yeah, there were a few tough scenes to shoot for this one too.
So how’s Woody taking to fatherhood?
JG: He’s ace! I mean he can’t clean the house, or dress himself properly, or shave, but he’s doing well. All of his energy has gone into the children, and I think I’d be a similar sort of dad.
Has Lol managed to come to terms with the trauma of the last series?
VM: I don’t think it’s so much that she’s come to terms with it, but she’s certainly moved on with her life and will continue to deal with it in her own way.
I heard about how Joseph and Vicky were kept apart from each other during filming for the last series, to represent the isolation between the characters. How did that feel?
JG: It works. It was tough but it really worked, didn’t it?
VM: Yeah, there was one point where we did bump into each other before shooting together and the scene just didn’t work; the intensity was lost.
AS: When you think something like that isn’t going to work, it really surprises you when you’re on set and start to feel the benefit.
What will you miss the most about working on This Is England?
VM: Each other. We’re a stupidly tight cast and even though we’re not going to lose each other, it’s a shame that we won’t be putting the clobber back on and doing what we do.
Was it an emotional last episode?
JG: Dude, it was fucking stupid. There were some serious tears. Vicky was wailing like she’d had her kids taken off her. I had to say to her, ‘Vicky, just settle down. Stop it!’
VM: *Laughing* It was actually a bit embarrassing.
JG: It was awful though. It’s like a big family – I bloody hate them all sometimes, but I’ll always love them.
AS: We’ll miss all of the crew as well – it’s not just the actors that have a bond. Shane makes sure that everyone feels part of it. It’s a special thing.
Next up Joe Dempsie (Higgy), Thomas Turgoose (Shaun), Andrew Ellis (Gadget) and Jo Hartley (Cynthia) tell us about the group’s relationships on and off screen, the accuracy of the Madchester acid-house scene and of their love affair with Sheffield after ten years of filming on our streets…
So how does this one feel different to the others?
JH: I guess for us as characters it doesn’t really, it’s just an evolution of their journey. It doesn’t feel any different to us because once we’re back together again you just feel like you’re in this family and you kind of get right back into it.
JD: Yeah in terms of Flip and Higgy the main difference for them is that they have somehow managed to worm their way into the group. For some reason these guys accept them in. That’s about it, nothin’ else has changed, they’re still a couple of dickheads really.
Were you surprised to be called back, Joe?
JD: We did the bit in ‘86 then we did actually shoot a scene for ’88, but it was this bizarre improvisation and because ‘88 was this gut-wrenching piece, it would have looked so stupid in amongst all of that, so Shane very wisely decided that it should live elsewhere. But it was great to be asked back. It’s so much fun playing these characters because you get to indulge in the most moronic part of your psyche. It’s the most fun I’ve had on a set in ages.
AE: I think there is a change in the gang’s dynamics in the fact that it’s kind of about the younger ones now. Woody, Lol when we’re filming. It’s a wonder we turn up to work! The odd time they join us it gets all exciting, we’re like, ‘let’s show ‘em where we’ve been going this year!’
What is your relationship with the city? After filming three series and a film there, there’s got to be some sort of a connection…
JD: Thommo loves Sheffield!
TT: Sheffield’s the only other place I feel at home. When I’m driving into Grimsby or Sheffield I get the same feeling. I love the place. It’s a brilliant night out and we’ve made a lot of friends there as well.
What was it like going back to the ‘90s?
JH: I was there in the ‘90s. Me and Shane are the same age I think. I’m 43 now and I started ravin’ in 1988, so by 1990 it was full-on. I went to Spike Island but he never made it! But the scene was all about the Mondays, Spiral Tribe and the Roses – I was their age and having the time of my life. We’d go to the Haçienda and dance in a corner, come out at two in the morning, jump in a car and go to the Blackburn raves.
Have they got the era right then?
JH: What I’ve seen of it, it’s authentic and it’s real. It’s a character piece, not a recreation of the era, and the experience of these characters within that backdrop.
AE: It’s like anything that Shane does, it’s meant to be the Haçienda, but it’s the shitty little midland version of it, like in a church hall with loads of people selling speed. Shane feeds us stories about what him and his friends were doing and it helps you get into the scene. It feels real.
You’ve been these characters for so long, what is it like when people recognise you in the street?
TT: If I had a quid for every time someone shouted ‘ginge!’ at me…
At this point the interview is interrupted by Joseph Gilgun shouting something across the room as he demands that we all see Thomas Turgoose’s tattoos. After some cajoling, the trousers come down, and a list of each of the actors’ names from This Is England is revealed on Thommo’s buttocks, to the applause and appreciation of the press, and more enthusiastically, his co-stars.
Anyway… What are you going to miss most now that it’s all over?
JH: The camaraderie on set, that ability to get there and feel completely at ease.
AE: I’ll miss Shane’s style and the way he works mostly. You don’t get it with any other director, I know that’s cliché to say but you literally don’t.
TT: Any other job it’s really hard to improvise, but this one I find so easy because of how much we know each other and the amount of time we spend together off set as well.
What was it like filming on the last day?
AE: It was a hard one, we can’t really say what happens but at the wrap party there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It’s been ten years for a lot of us. The prospect of it not happening again is a scary one, but as we said we are still going to see each other.
Is it a case now, if Shane called you up, you’d drop everything and be there?
AE: I think that’s always been the case.
JD: Most of us would say so yeah. Growing up in the workshop in Nottingham, it was always Shane’s first point of call for young actors for his films, so we were kind of raised on a diet of Shane Meadows. Working with Shane was the first acting ambition I ever had. Once I realised I wasn’t going to play for Nottingham Forest…
AE: We try not to think about it all being over and, yeah, sort of hope that Shane writes us in another one!
REVIEW THIS IS ENGLAND 90 EPISODE ONE
In the same vein as the previous series and original film, This Is England ‘90 introduces the first episode by painting a picture of the era with fuzzy real-life footage; scenes of Gazza crying, mad cows collapsing and Maggie’s Downing Street departure flicker on screen before cutting to the lives of the gang as they stand, after the less than festive events of ‘88. We’ve got Lol and Kelly serving up school dinners (with Shaun, Gadget and Milky harping back to those carefree school days by trying to cadge a few free chips at the back door) and Woody is at home looking after the children with pipe cleaners in his beard. The episode starts as it means to go on; the humour is quick and in places it is laugh out loud funny. But this is what happens with Shane Meadows’ work – it lulls you into a false sense of security. At any minute the jokes turn to jostles and before you know it a full blown fight has kicked off and gritty violence ensues before the smirk has even had a chance to disappear from your face. Amongst moments of sheer hilarity are brief glimpses of past horrors, and while some characters are snorting speed and embracing the blithe Madchester mock-up nights in the local community hall, you get the impression that the some of their lives will inevitably take a down turn at some point. With the ups must come the downs.The first episode demonstrates the gift that Shane Meadows has for seamlessly marrying moments of comic absurdity with frustration and anguish. Flip and Higgy are once again the target of ridicule; sporting dodgy facial hair and dressed in ‘80s throwback shell suits, they are involved in an incredibly bizarre kind of threesome involving a pinch of marijuana, a pool table and the triangle as a blindfold. Meanwhile Shaun is dealing with his break up from Smell and takes it out on her new boyfriend in a drug and drink fuelled brawl.
Lol, Woody and Milky’s drama is seemingly over, with their Meadows-style of domestic bliss on the back burner of the plot as the young ones take centre stage.
The building block for the rest of the series, the first episode offers a hint to whose lives are about to undergo a drastic change as the summer of love approaches. The final shot, a close up on a wide-eyed unblinking Kelly, suggests she is to take centre stage this time around – perhaps unresolved family issues come bubbling to the surface, or maybe Meadows has an entirely new plan of action up his sleeve to spiral her life out of control. Either way, you can guarantee it will be one hell of a ride.
In a Q&A with the cast and director Shane Meadows at the end of the screening, by all intents and purposes it seems this series is in fact the final one. Joseph Gilgun talks of the idea of quitting whilst they’re ahead, “We don’t wanna flog a dead horse now do we?” and Shane himself says, albeit rather mysteriously, “I have put a full stop in it now… But it is in pencil”. Make of that what you will.
This Is England 90 airs on Channel 4 from September 13 at 9pm. For more information head to www.channel4.com.