Set against the backdrop of the Falklands war, This is England gives us the story of a young boy whose seemingly normal coming-of-age is warped by two events: the death of his father in Thatcher's arguably meaningless Argentinian conflict, and the boy's unexpected embrace by a gaggle of youngish right-wingers who are alarmed by the presence of Pakistanis in their traditionally white neighborhoods. 11-year old Shaun (played by an exceptionally good young actor named Thomas Turgoose) is a boy who seemingly, even at his young, understands the value of finding normalcy and happiness and everyday life, and the process by which he's seduced into the skinhead circle is as layered and complex as it would be for a 20-year old character, let alone one who is young enough to be barely aware of sex. Shaun is hard to impress, in other words, and is not above telling anyone who treats him like a little boy to 'piss off' or worse. One of the funny things about this intimate little drama is that its cursing would make Scorsese blush.

The leader of the skinheads is Combo (Stephen Graham), a mercurial chap who alternates between speechifying about British pride like Ed Norton in American History X and trying to make honest efforts at connecting with his co-malcontents. He's far from the most pitiless brownshirt ever portrayed in the movies, but he does possesses mean reservoirs that the movie holds back from showing us for as long as it can. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess how he feels about the group's one Afro-Caribbean member, called Milky. His presence in the group isn't explained very well, but I suspect the idea is that director Shane Meadows is trying to make some kind of comment on the cross-pollination of skinhead culture and punk culture that existed in lower-middle class Britain at the time. One was perhaps marginally more accepting of a Milky, while the other was decidedly not, but an outsider might be hard-pressed to sort that difference immediately. Andrew Shim plays Milky as a guy who isn't surprised to face occasional racism, but plays past it.