[SPOILERS] The conclusion (or is it?) of Shane Meadows's This Is England '86 was equal parts unsatisfactory and exemplary. Disappointing, because a few storylines ended in a manner that didn't justify all the buildup (Lol's affair with Milky wasn't exposed, Woody's impromptu second attempt wedding to Lol didn't happen), but exemplary because there was some marvelous work from Stephen Graham as returning boogieman Combo, and a gripping sequence when Lol confronted her father Mick, with the intention of battering him over the head with a claw hammer for raping her friend Trev, only to find herself his next target during a struggle on his living room floor. There's no doubting the strength of some of the actors here -– primarily Graham, Vicky McClure and Johnny Harris – and Meadows does wonders whenever the story takes such sinister twists. You could hardly tear your eyes away from the screen on several occasions.
However, bringing Combo back for a redemptive storyline was fine in principle, but demanded more screen time. As the villain of the original movie, it was a letdown his return didn't cause more fireworks. Instead, he was given almost a Biblical arc; washing the blood off himself in Good Samaritan Shaun's (Thomas Turgoose) bath, praying over his dead mum in her cramped bedroom, before finding redemption by sacrificing his freedom to absolve Lol of the repercussions of killing her dad. Also a great scene between Graham and McClure in her dad's front room, with Combo fixing the crime scene to implicate himself as the killer, to be sent back to prison for manslaughter.
Overall, This Is England '86 was a good TV drama with some phenomenal performances, brilliant sequences, and intriguing symbolism (Shaun's soldier father was killed during the Falklands War by Argentine forces, this TV sequel's finale took place during the match between England and Argentina at the World Cup). And with Diego Maradona's notorious "Hand Of God" incident during the tournament, cruelly knocking England out of the Cup, it was interesting to note Combo's hand in staging Lol's crime scene being a more positive cheat.
Reaction to this series has been a little polarizing, but it was visually superb and the acting was top-notch in general. It's just a shame there wasn't a clearer focus, and some of the subplots wound up feeling like filler. A series letdown by some structural mistakes and unnecessary elements, really, but whenever it was focusing on Lol and her creepy father it was intense television of a high standard.
WRITERS: Shane Meadows & Jack Thorne
DIRECTOR: Shane Meadows
CAST: Thomas Turgoose, Rosamund Hanson, Joe Gilgun, Vicky McClure, Andrew Ellis, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Perry Benson, George Newton, Jo Hartley, Johnny Harris, Kriss Dosanjh, Danielle Watson, Joe Dempsie, Chanel Cresswell, Michael Socha, Hannah Walters, Katherine Dow Blyton & Perry Fitzpatrick
TRANSMISSION: 28 September 2010 – CHANNEL 4/HD, 10PM