How does Shane Meadows use mise-en-scene and cinematography in Combo’s speech to represent Skinhead subculture and develop the narrative journey of Shaun?
This is England is a British social realist film, directed by Shane Meadows in 2006. It epitomizes the historical and social context of the 1980’s, such as the Miners strike, the Brixton riots and most importantly the Falklands war. This is significant to the narrative and context of the film because of the impact it had on the characters and the issues they raised at the time such as unemployment, bitterness of the working class and racism towards immigrants. The Falklands war is particularly important since the main protagonist, Shaun, lost his father in that war which was why he was easily manipulated by Combo as he saw him as a father figure. The most pivotal scene in the movie is when Combo is attempting to convince the others that England has lost its glory because of foreigners taking their jobs, homes and country. He explains that Magaret Thatcher has lied to the English people and killed good men such as Shaun’s dad. He creates an ultimatum which divides the group. Meadows uses mise en scene and advanced cinematography to articulate the complexity of the skinhead subculture and the facist right wing views of Combo who represents the nationalist skinheads of this time period.
Combo’s speech is the turning point in This is England’s narrative since it forces the group to choose between Combo’s strength and Woody’s friendship. This scene is set in Combo’s house which has extremely ordinary and insignificant furniture which articulates that he is working class which is typical of this time period due to the unemployment which surged because of Thatcher and the government’s policies. This setting is extremely important in this part of the narrative since it highlights that Combo has been personally affected by these policies and wants to take action by directing his hate towards immigrants since he feels that they are taking the houses and jobs off of unemployed English people. Another example of Combos nationalisim is his swastika tattoo in the centre of his neck which is evidence of his facist, rightwing beliefes. The swastika is a direct reference to the german nazi movement which were responible for one of the most devastating mass geneocides in history. This also shows how violent and outrageous Combos attitudes are to other human beings.
All of the characters in this scene were wearing Doc Martin shoes, ripped trousers and rugged tops. This uniform was synonymous with the skinhead subculture which created a stigma around the entire culture because of the nationalist, right wing fascists who identified themselves with the skinheads. In this scene Combo created an ultimatum which divides and breaks the group however since they are all wearing similar costumes there is no obvious physical divide between them since you could not tell them apart by simply looking at them. This represents how the entire skinhead subculture became linked to nationalism and racism; however through this technique Meadows advocates that this was not what the majority of skinheads actually believed.
During his speech Combo diminishes the Falklands war when he states that it is a pointless political statement and that the men were sent to die for nothing. This upsets Shaun and causes him to attempt to fight Combo since his father had died fighting in that war. However this action only impresses Combo and he uses Shauns show of strength to make the other boys feel defenceless and less masculine. Meadows reinforces this idea when he uses advanced cinematography in order to show that Combo views the boys as inferior to him. This is evident through the use of a high angled shot when the camera is pointed at the boys to show that Combo looks down on them. However, there is a low angled shot when the camera is focused on Combo which shows that he is seen as the leader of the group. This is important for both the film’s narrative and the journey of Shaun because it shows how captivating and hopeful Combos words can seem to those who have been affected by unemployment, are bitter towards Thatcher and for those who lost someone to the war like Shaun. Combo is an extremely right wing nationalist and has strong political views which are violent and racist however he masks them as patriotism. His words are extremely inspiring to Shaun who wants to make his fathers death have meaning and who is extremely vulnerable. This scene is extremely substantial to Shaun’s journey since he chooses Combo’s power over Woody’s friendship.
Meadows uses an over the shoulder shot of Combo to show Shaun’s emotions as he listens to what Combo is stating. The depth of field is completely focused on Shaun at this point in order to guide the audience to look at Shaun since this is a pivotal moment in his journey, since he feels that he has to join Combo to make his fathers death meaningful. Combo uses Shauns frustration and bitterness towards his fathers death to control the group which ultimately makes Shaun feel like he has got a purpose. Once Combo has finished talking to Shaun he stands up and the camera tilts upwards with him. This once again reinforces the idea that Combo is the leader of the group and holds a lot of power. CU’s were also predominant throughout this scene to show the emotions and thoughts that the characters were having and feeling towards Combos speech. An important example of this is the close up of Shaun’s bitter reaction when Combo mentions the Falklands war and later on his hopeful one when he chooses to fight with Combo.
The lighting in this scene is completely natural which gives the appearance of a documentary style film which is typical in british social realist films. This further demonstrates the working class nature of the film since it has low production values. A huge majority of the working class population during this time were living in extreme and relative poverty because of the unemployment that spiked after Thatcher closed numerous miners pits. This caused her to become an extremely hated figure to the working class society and many turned to nationalism which was an extremely racist institution towards immigrants which was evident through the brixton riots which is referenced throughout the film through the character of Milky. The lack of colour in Combo’s apartment is significant in demonstrating once again that he is poor which is a huge factor that influences his hatred towards Thatcher and immigrants.
Overall, the techniques used by Meadows including mise en scene and advanced cinematography show the ways in which the skinhead subculture was exploited and recruited to create the extremist right wing national front which they attempted to disguise as patriotism. Through the narrative journey of Shaun, Meadows also shows how young working class and vulnerable people, like Shaun, were frustrated with Margeret Thatcher’s policies which caused them to turn to extreme right wing nationalists like Combo because of how strong they appeared. Meadows also shows how the entirety of the skinhead subculture became synonymous with right wing nationalism but advocates clearly in Combo’s speech scene that this was not the case since they were all skinheads but did not hold the same extreme political views.