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ENGLAND IS MINE gets 4/10 Frankly, Mr Shankly

Directed by Mark Gill
Starring Jack Lowden, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jodie Comer


Frank admission time. I’ve not got the best relationship with Morrissey.

Well to be closer to the truth, Morrissey has no idea that I exist (and why would he), and I think, as an artist, he’s a pretentious toss-pot. Fortunately my partner is a fan, so was kind enough to act as a control subject, just in case I wasn’t subjective enough in my opinion. The result is the same, England Is Mine fails to excite either fan or critic.

Set in the Manchester of the 70s, England Is Mine follows the life of Steven Patrick Morrissey (Jack Lowden) as he struggles to work out what he wants to do with life. Possessed of a love of reading, writing and music, a crippling shyness, and a rather downcast disposition, he struggles to fit in with both the mundane world of work, and the more flamboyant music scene of the Punk era. We see the formative years of the music icon, his associations with latter Cult guitarist Billy Duffy (Adam Lawrence) and Ludus singer Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay ), his early meeting with Johnny Marr (Laurie Kynaston) up to the eventual forming of The Smiths.

Mark Gill and William Thacker’s script takes a risky gamble here, in their choice of what part of Morrissey’s life to cover. In focusing on the creation of the music idol from his struggling early years in the club scene, his first bands, early writings and progressing to the formation of The Smiths frontman we know and lov… well… know. By doing this Gill and Thacker hope to show the birth of a legend, without dipping into the familiar cliches of the music bio-pic. It’s a brave move, but one that doesn’t work.

You see, England Is Mine fails because it gives us nothing to replace the familiar, and says little of interest about the youthful Morrissey’s life. A few shining moments aside, Gill’s deliberate avoidance of the music and arts scene at the time wears pretty thin pretty quick (even avoiding the music of the time, by heading to Morrissey’s own eclectic listening tastes for a playlist). Instead it wallows in a kitchen sink drama, while a self proclaimed tortured genius (portrayed as somewhere on the autistic scale) gains the confidence to pursue his own dreams instead of working in the civil service.

As the film progresses, it sinks even further into this malaise to reflect Morrissey’s own depression, slowing the pace to a bare crawl. Nor can it even claim to be doing this in the cause of historical accuracy, as it takes vast liberties with the time-frame and events of the artist’s life. It seems like England Is Mine proudly declares that “story is King”, then quietly forgets to hold a coronation.

The result is a turgid and slow drag through the monotony of a young Morrissey’s life. Despite some fine cinematography, and a fair recreation of 70s Britain, England Is Mine gives us little insight into the creation of the popular singer. Perhaps even more unforgivable, is that it on the whole fails to capture the wit and humour of the man, instead giving a boring pretense of intellectual snobbery.

Heaven knows I’m miserable now.

England Is Mine (along with a host of better British cinema) is screening as part of the Cunard British Film Festival from October 26 to November 15.


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